Europe is slowly becoming a continent of the obese as youngsters keep gaining weight from an unhealthy diet. European Union countries, and Greece in particular, have begun to take the problem of obesity in children seriously. Children from Greece and southern Italy have the highest levels of portliness and obesity in Europe. In Greece, the number of children aged 9-18 who are overweight or obese has doubled in the past 20 years from 20 percent of the population to almost 40 percent. Younger children also have weight problems. A recent survey conducted on Crete on a sample of 1,500 children at nursery school showed that one in three was overweight or obese. These disturbing findings were presented to the press Tuesday in connection with the European program «Childhood Obesity, Cardiovascular and Related Chronic Diseases.» The program, in which 20 EU countries participated, was designed by the European Network of Cardiological Foundations. «Obese children are the patients of the future,» said Nikolaos Katsaros, president of the national food inspection agency EFET. He referred to World Health Organization data showing that some 1.2 billion people in the developed world are overweight or obese, saying it is estimated that in the next 50 years, 70 percent of diseases will be associated with obesity and poor diet. Speaking of products that do nothing but add weight, he noted that three soft drinks contain all the daily calories a person needs but only 3 percent of their nutritional requirements. Professor Antonios Kafatos from the University of Crete Medical School said that analyses he had made of potato chips revealed that they contained only fat and no potato. He added that milk was not the basic ingredient in most ice cream. «If we don’t act now,» said Antonia Trichopoulou, professor of epidemiology and hygiene at Athens University Medical School, «the chain that links us to the precious past of our dietary heritage will break.» She said it would be better for the Greek food industry to be inspired by the traditional Greek diet and not to promote Western food habits. All the speakers laid particular emphasis on the training that children should receive at home and school on healthy eating. Greek TV shows most advertisements for unhealthy foods Greece not only has some of the most obese children in Europe, it also has the greatest number of food advertisements aimed principally at children (such as for potato chips, chocolates and soft drinks). As cardiologist Giorgos Andrikopoulos told the press on behalf of the Hellenic Cardiology Foundation, research conducted at Oxford University which studied television programs from all EU countries, showed that Greece airs the highest number of food advertisements during children’s viewing hours. On weekends between 9 a.m. and noon, the four major television stations screen advertisements for unhealthy foods every three minutes on average.