Obesity amongst European pre-schoolers hits record levels

Obesity amongst European pre-schoolers hits record levels

Obesity amongst European pre-schoolers hits record levels

Pre-school children are piling on the pounds thanks to consuming too many unhealthy soft drinks and snacks and leading a sedentary weekend lifestyle in front of the TV at weekends.

This is according to new research that has been conducted by scientists across 10 countries in Europe.

Obesity in pre-schoolers in Europe is at a record level, and more that one in eight children in northern Europe is overweight, and this rises to over 25% in southern parts of the continent.

Young Spanish girls are showing the highest levels, and 38% are now classified as being overweight or obese. These facts are not only affecting the future health of the European population but also exerting an enormous burden financially on society.

‘We need a new approach to prevent obesity,’ said the coordinator of the ToyBox-study, Dr Yannis Manios, Assistant Professor at Harokopio University, Athens. ‘Young children are naturally energetic and they like being physically active since for them this is a way to interact socially and make friends. However, in the opposite direction, the natural human preference for sweet tasting and energy-dense foods and drinks is leading children towards these food items whenever they are exposed to them. For these reasons, obesity prevention programmes should try to ensure that children have free time and space to be physically active, create a healthy food and drink environment but also guide teachers and parents on how they can promote such behaviours.’

Dr Manios and his team highlighted the need for health-promoting policies. ‘We found that many countries are lacking clear guidelines on healthy eating and active play,’ he said. ‘However, there is good evidence linking sedentary behaviour (like TV watching) with subsequent obesity. Therefore, TV-watching in kindergartens should be replaced by more active, non-competitive, fun activities which will promote the participation of the whole class and help children to achieve optimal growth, health and well-being.’

‘Similarly at home, TVs in the bedroom and unhealthy snacks in the kitchen cupboard are a bad idea. Parents should also remember that their role is not only to provide healthy food and drink options but to act as a role model themselves, since kids are copying their behaviours.’

The multi-country research project is supported by a €2.9m grant from the European Commission, and will include development and testing of a new programme designed to help kindergartens in 6 EU-countries to promote healthy snacking, water consumption, physical activity and limiting sedentary activities such as TV-watching and playing computer games.

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