medwireNews: The prevalence of overweight and obesity remains high among European children, say researchers, with “worrisome” rising trends in some countries, despite stabilising rates and downwards trends in other countries.

“Despite a recent stabilization of the trends in childhood excess weight in most European countries, current interventions to address the excess weight epidemic should be maintained or strengthened because the prevalence of excess weight is still very high”, write Iván Cavero-Redondo (Universidad de Castilla-La Mancha, Cuenca, Spain) and co-researchers in JAMA Pediatrics.

They report that the overall rate of childhood overweight and obesity rose slightly from 20.6% in 1999–2006 to 21.3% in 2011–2016, and the corresponding prevalences of obesity were 4.4% and 5.7%. These trends were similar in an analysis restricted to studies that had representative samples and were of moderate or high quality.

The team drew their data from 103 studies reporting overweight and obesity rates among 477,620 children aged 2 to 13 years living in 28 European countries. There were 97 cross-sectional prevalence studies and six longitudinal analyses.

Some areas of Europe had stable or declining trends over the study period. For example, the prevalence fell from 15.7% to 13.2% in children aged 2 to 6 years from the Central region, and from 31.0% to 29.0% in Iberian children aged 7 to 13 years.

The researchers say that this is in line with data from other global regions, and note: “Since this phenomenon has been reported in countries with different prevalence rates, it is plausible that the increased population awareness of this public health problem, as well as interventions promoting daily physical activity and healthy diets, have contributed to the stabilization of childhood obesity rates.”

However, the team highlights the “worrying upward trend” seen in Mediterranean countries, which they say “requires urgent appropriate public health measures”.

In the Mediterranean, the prevalence of overweight and obesity rose from 18.8% to 19.5% among children aged 2–6 years and from 25.3% to 30.4% in those aged 7–13 years.

Among individual countries with data available for the 2011–2016 period, Cyprus, Greece, Malta, Italy, Spain and Portugal had particularly high rates of childhood overweight and obesity, ranging from 26.4% to 36.8%, which the researchers say “could be partially attributed to the gradual shift from the healthy Mediterranean diet to a more Westernized diet”.

They add: “Additionally, physical activity levels in children living in the Mediterranean countries are lower than in those living in Atlantic and Central Europe.”

By Eleanor McDermid

medwireNews is an independent medical news service provided by Springer Healthcare. © 2019 Springer Healthcare part of the Springer Nature group

JAMA Pediatr 2019; doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2019.2430