The European Commission funded study – published in PLoS ONE – surveyed 10-12 year old children in seven European countries. The research found high levels and ‘striking differences’ in overweight status across Europe, with Greece topping the league with 20% obese, and a further 30% overweight.
The team of researchers from 15 institutions across Europe found that girls tended to be slimmer than boys, but girls also tended to participate in sports less than boys. Boys watched more television and drank more soft drinks.
“Explaining these differences is not easy,” said research coordinator Professor Johannes Brug, of the VU University Medical Center of Amsterdam.
“We found children in Greece have the lowest levels of sports activities, children in Hungary watch the most television, children in Belgium sleep the most, and children in the Netherlands consume the most sugared drinks,” he explained.
Fighting the fat
The authors said obesity is hitting record levels among Europe's children – revealing that across the seven countries an average of nearly one in ten are obese and a further 20% are overweight.
Brug and his colleagues noted that the lowest levels were found in Norway where only 4% are obese, and a further 15% overweight. The team also found that children of better educated parents tended to be slimmer – except in Greece or Spain.
“Clearly there are differences in the cultural traditions, family customs and dietary habits across different European communities,” said Brug.
“The research tells us that children have one thing in common - they are all exposed to multiple causes of obesity which lead them to gain excess weight. Tackling just one cause on its own will not work.”
The research leader added that the EU project – funded by a €2.9m grant – will also include pilot testing new interventions designed to reduce sedentary behaviours in children.