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Childhood obesity in European Region remains high: new WHO report presents latest country data

Nov 08, 2022

WHO/Europe has published a new Childhood Obesity Surveillance Initiative (COSI) report, the fifth in a series measuring trends in overweight and obesity among primary school aged children since 2007. The new report’s findings are based on the latest data gathered in 2018–2020 in 33 countries of the WHO European Region. In total, almost 411 000 children aged 6–9 years were measured. For the first time, the report presents data from Armenia, Germany (City of Bremen) and Israel – countries that recently joined the WHO surveillance initiative.

Overweight and obesity: severe health risk factors 

Childhood overweight and obesity undermine health across the European Region. These conditions are linked to many noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) – from cardiovascular diseases to diabetes and cancer. Today, 1 in 3 school-aged children in the Region are living with overweight or obesity, and the rates are increasing in many countries. We need quality data to find better solutions to this problem.

Data from 33 countries of the WHO European Region

Overall, 29% of children aged 7–9 years in the participating countries were living with overweight – including obesity. Prevalence was higher among boys (31%) than girls (28%). 

The report also reveals that almost all children (87%) across the Region play outside for at least an hour daily; 43% of children eat fruit every day, and 34% eat vegetables. “The findings show that 1 in 3 children still live with overweight or obesity. We need to accelerate our actions to bring these figures down,” said Dr Kremlin Wickramasinghe, ad interim Head of the WHO European Office for the Prevention and Control of Noncommunicable Diseases, which produced the report. 

Reduction of overweight and obesity

In the new COSI Round 5 report, compared to the previous round (2015–2017), there was a statistically significant decrease in the prevalence of overweight among both boys and girls in Malta, among boys in San Marino and girls in Italy, and a decrease of obesity levels among boys in San Marino and girls in Malta.

COSI data has shown a decreasing trend in overweight prevalence in Greece, Italy, Portugal, Slovenia and Spain since its first edition in 2007–2008. Despite the decrease, the prevalence of overweight and obesity in these countries – especially in southern Europe – are still among the highest in the Region.

Better policies to reverse worrying trends

“We urgently need better policies that can help us to reverse current childhood obesity trends – especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic that is seen as a dangerous driver of overweight and obesity levels,” added Dr Wickramasinghe.

The need to reduce obesity levels in children and adults is highlighted in the WHO European Programme of Work 2020–2025, which promotes united action for better health in all 53 countries of the Region.


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