Fat is a children’s issue, too: 2 out of 10 Greek youngsters are overweight or obese

Two in 10 children and adolescents in Greece are overweight or obese, with the highest incidence of childhood obesity observable in the early years of life, a countrywide survey has shown. Greek children are paying for their parents’ insecurity over whether they are getting enough food with a resulting rise in weight that hugely increases their chances of developing heart disease, diabetes and depression as adults, experts claim. The findings of the first Greek epidemiological study on the incidence of childhood and adolescent obesity throughout the country were presented in early December at a press conference by the chairman and vice chairman of the Greek Medical Society on Obesity, Efthymios Kapantais and Ioannis Kaklamanos respectively, and the president of the statistics department of the Athens University of Economics and Business, Epameinondas Panas. According to the study, one in 10 kids, or 9.9 percent, are obese and one in 10, or 11.7 percent, are overweight. The greatest problem is to be found among children aged between 1 and 6, of whom 15 percent are obese. They are followed by 7 to 12-year-olds, with an 8.6 percent obesity rate, and then 13 to 19-year-olds, of whom 6.1 percent are obese. A year-by-year breakdown of the results shows worryingly high percentages of children aged 7 who are obese (34.3 percent of boys and 31.2 percent of girls), which drop, however, in higher age groups, reaching 3.3 percent for boys and 2 percent for girls aged 12. This phenomenon appears to be linked to the abrupt change in dietary habits and children starting school. The drop in the number of obese children with the passage of time is counterbalanced by an increase in the percentage of those that are overweight, accounting for 16.3 percent of 13 to 19-year-olds and 11.9 percent of 7 to 12-year-olds. Seven percent of youngsters aged 1 to 6 are overweight. These figures confirm for experts that the greatest responsibility for the consequences of bad nutrition is borne by the family. Boys, especially in adolescence, are likely to have a higher incidence of obesity. Thus 29.6 percent of boys aged 13 to 19 are fatter than they should be (8.9 percent are obese and 20.7 percent are overweight) compared to 16.1 percent of girls (3.6 percent obese, and 12.5 percent overweight), who during adolescence are influenced by fashion trends which idealize very slender figures. The survey was conducted among 18,045 children and adolescents aged 1 to 19 in all the prefectures of the country. With respect to geographical fluctuations in childhood obesity, Panas pointed out that the data have not yet been analyzed, but a first impression is that the incidence of childhood obesity varies from region to region. For example, in the Cyclades, children are more likely to be obese or overweight than in large urban centers. But according to experts, the findings dispute the myth that Greek children are the fattest kids in Europe. Eastern and southern European children (with over 15 percent) have that dubious distinction. In countries such as Hungary, Italy and Spain, an average of 15 percent of children aged 9 to 13 are obese. By contrast, the percentage of childhood obesity in northern Europe does not exceed 10 percent. Nevertheless, this does not permit any relaxation of vigilance, say the experts, as obesity is a worldwide epidemic that is claiming an ever-growing number of victims.