Severe child obesity highest in Greece, Italy and Spain amid decline of Mediterranean diet, WHO report shows

Malta has highest rate of severely obese children with 5.5 per cent of six- to nine-year-olds affected, but southern Europe has higher rates than western states

Alex Matthews-King
Health Correspondent
Tuesday 30 April 2019 07:06
Comments
The UK was not included in the findings but has some of the highest obesity rates in Europe
The UK was not included in the findings but has some of the highest obesity rates in Europe

Mediterranean nations whose diets have long been held up as benchmarks for healthy living have the highest rates of severe child obesity in Europe, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned.

A report taking in data from 21 European nations lays bare the crisis in southern states, with more than 4 per cent of primary school age children severely obese in Greece, Italy, Spain and San Marino.

With more than 5.5 per cent of children affected, Malta had the highest rates of severe obesity in the study, which is being presented at the European Congress on Obesity in Glasgow on Tuesday.

While countries in western and northern Europe, including Belgium, Ireland and Norway, had severe obesity rates below 2 per cent, some notoriously overweight states – such as the UK – were not included. France, Germany and Russia were also left out of the study.

Researchers said one factor was likely to be the “decline” in the idealised Mediterranean diet, high in whole grains, nuts, vegetables, olive oil and fish.

Many countries are now seeing the effects of an influx of cheap, high calorie convenience foods and some, such as Denmark and the UK, have introduced taxes on high sugar or high-fat items.

Other studies have found similarly high rates of child and adult obesity in southern Mediterranean nations.

But the research, led by Dr João Breda, head of the WHO’s European office for Prevention and Control of Noncommunicable Diseases is the first to look specifically at “severe” child obesity. This is defined differently from adults but roughly requires them to have a body mass index higher than 19 out of 20 children in their age group.

Mediterranean nations had highest rates of severe obesity out of 21 European states studied

Dr Breda and colleagues said an explanation for higher rates of obesity in southern Europe “remains elusive”, though there are several possible explanations.

“The loss of the Mediterranean diet in southern European countries could be linked to this severe obesity problem,” the authors said.

Though it could also be a result of “lower height-for-age found in southern Europe”, higher birth weights, reduced sleep duration and different patterns for meals and physical activity.

Higher rates of maternal education were another factor that reduced the risk of severe obesity, the report found.

The authors warn that without action the same pattern could develop in other nations with traditionally Mediterranean diets and habits, such as Albania and Moldova.

“Without timely, appropriate and effective policy measures to prevent obesity, there is a risk that prevalence rates in these countries will eventually match the levels seen in other European countries,” the authors said.

The study used data from 636,933 six- to nine-year-olds, and the findings indicate that there are at least 400,000 children who are already severely obese of a total 13.7 million six- to nine-year-olds in the 21 countries included in the study.

“Severe obesity is a serious public health issue and the results of this study show that a large number of children in Europe suffer from it,” the authors concluded.

“Given its impact on education, health, social care and the economy, obesity needs to be addressed via a range of approaches, from prevention to early diagnosis and treatment.”

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in