Europe is beginning to see high levels of overweight kids; is the obesity epidemic spreading across the ocean?
Despite the common perception that Americans are often the overweight ones, and that Europeans manage to stay thin due to better diets and physical activity, it looks like kids in European countries have just as high a risk to develop obesity as their American counterparts.
The World Health Organization (WHO) recently announced that being overweight is on its way to becoming the “new norm” in Europe. In a new report on obesity levels in 53 countries in the WHO’s European Region, researchers found that 27 percent of 13-year-olds and 33 percent of 11-year-olds are overweight. The highest obesity levels were found in Greece, Portugal, Ireland, and Spain. They were lowest in the Netherlands and Switzerland.
Being at a healthy weight is no longer considered the “norm” in both America and Europe, the WHO claims. “Our perception of what is normal has shifted; being overweight is now more common than unusual,” Zsuzsanna Jakab, the WHO’s regional director, told Reuters. “We must not let another generation grow up with obesity as the new norm.”
Another new study out of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention points out that obesity prevalence in the States has actually remained just as high as before. There has been no significant change in recent years, the study authors, whose findings are published in JAMA, report. In 2011-2012, about one-third of Americans and 17 percent of children were considered obese; things haven’t changed too much since then.
According to the CDC, the percentage of adults over the age of 20 who are obese was 35.9 percent in 2009-2010. That same report found that 69.2 percent of adults over 20 are overweight, meaning that only a fraction of Americans are considered to be at healthy, normal weights.
Childhood obesity has tripled in U.S. citizens since 1980, and makes it far more likely that kids will grow into obese adults with serious health issues. Childhood obesity raises the risk of chronic diseases including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and asthma.
However, in spring 2013, the CDC issued a report that had found childhood obesity figures in the U.S. had plateaued and had actually begun declining in some states, offering some hope that America may actually be turning things around. The government report found that throughout 18 states, including Florida, Georgia, Missouri, New Jersey, and South Dakota, there were at least slight declines in obesity for low-income preschoolers. The number of obese preschoolers, however, still remains at about one in 8.
Despite these somewhat promising results, the authors of the JAMA study believe that overall, obesity hasn’t made much of a retreat across the nation in recent years.
Who is most at risk of being affected by obesity? Plenty of studies have shown that people living in low-income neighborhoods, where cheap junk food trumps more expensive, organic healthy eats, are more likely to become obese than others. “If you’re going to look at the problem of obesity early in childhood, the group at highest risk are low-income kids,” Dr. Matthew Davis, a researcher at the University of Michigan who tracks health policy and children’s health issues, told the Christian Science Monitor. “That’s what makes this data so valuable for understanding trends in this major public health problem.”
In Europe, meanwhile, it’s the lack of physical activity that is making a dent in people’s weight levels. “We need to create environments where physical activity is encouraged and the healthy food choice is the default choice, regardless of social group,” Joao Breda, a WHO expert on nutrition, physical activity, and obesity, told Reuters. “Physical activity and healthy food choices should be taken very seriously in all environments — schools, hospitals, cities, towns and workplaces. As well as the food industry, the urban planning sector can make a difference.” The WHO study found that in 23 out of 36 countries, over 30 percent of boys and girls aged 15 and over are not getting enough exercise.
Childhood obesity has become a target of funding and research by the CDC, the White House, the U.S. Surgeon General, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Tuesday, Michelle Obama announced a ban on junk food advertisement in public schools, a step to battle poor eating habits in schools. The authors of the JAMA study note, “given the focus of public health efforts on obesity, surveillance of trends in obesity remains important.”