European Congress on Obesity
European Congress on Obesity
May 25, 2018
2 min read

WHO report: In southern Europe, 1 in 5 boys obese

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Joao Breda
Joao Breda

Preliminary data from the WHO Childhood Obesity Surveillance Initiative shows that southern European countries have the highest rates of childhood obesity in the region, with prevalence as high as 21% in Cyprus and Italy, according to data presented at the European Congress on Obesity annual meeting.

However, researchers presenting the data also noted a significant decrease in the prevalence of overweight and obesity in Greece, Italy, Portugal and Slovenia, and a decreasing tendency in Ireland and Spain.

“In countries like Italy, Portugal, Spain and Greece, although rates [of obesity] are high, there has been an important decrease, which is attributable to a very significant effort that these countries have put in recent years into the management and prevention of childhood obesity,” Joao Breda, PhD, MBA, MPH, head of the WHO European Office for Prevention and Control of Noncommunicable Diseases in Moscow, said in a press release.

The WHO Childhood Obesity Surveillance Initiative, or COSI, has measured trends in overweight and obesity in primary school-aged children (aged 6 to 9 years) for more than 10 years, assessing standardized weight and height measurements from approximately 250,000 children across the WHO European Region. Many countries also submit nutritional data, including frequency of consuming fruits, vegetables, soft drinks and breakfast, as part of the initiative. COSI also tracks physical activity and sedentary behavior reported by participating countries. The data presented this year come from the fourth round of analysis (2015-2017) from 38 countries, according to the researchers.

According to the preliminary report highlights, approximately 1 in 5 boys have obesity in Cyprus, Greece, Italy, Malta, San Marino and Spain, with obesity rates ranging from 18% to 21% in those nations. Denmark, France, Ireland, Latvia and Norway had the lowest rates of obesity, with rates ranging from 5% to 9%, according to the report.

The researchers reported that several countries, including Albania, Denmark, Ireland, Italy, Montenegro, Portugal, Russia, San Marino and Turkmenistan, reported three-quarters or more of boys and girls consuming fruit every day or most days. In the same countries, children consumed fewer foods like pizza, french fries, hamburgers, sausages or meat pies, consuming them 1 to 3 days per week or never, according to the report.

In the release, Breda said it is crucial to increase the consumption of fruit and vegetables in children while reducing their intake of sweets and, particularly, sugary soft drinks.

“Some countries involved have been collecting these data since we began in 2007, and soon a trend analysis will be available,” Breda said. “The data is useful for policymakers. To make the right decisions, policymakers need to know both their country’s own data around child obesity, and if policies have made a difference.


“A monitoring tool like COSI will sound the alarm bell if we are not achieving our universal aim of decreasing child obesity rates across Europe,” Breda said.

The researchers also noted that several large countries, such as the United Kingdom and Germany, do not participate in COSI. – by Regina Schaffer


Breda J. Childhood Obesity Surveillance Initiative. Presented at: European Congress on Obesity; May 23-26, 2018; Vienna.

Disclosure: Endocrine Today could not confirm relevant financial disclosures at the time of publication.