Malta is not alone: UN report shows childhood obesity highest in South European countries

Approximately one in five boys are obese in Malta, Italy, Cyprus, Spain, Greece and San Marino, according to the World Health Organisation’s childhood obesity surveillance initiative

Obesity among children is highest in South European countries, with rates being three to four times higher than those in countries with the lowest rates.

The data covering the period 2015 to 2017, was compiled by WHO, through its childhood obesity surveillance initiative, and covers 38 countries. Of these, 34 submitted overweight and obesity data for both girls and boys.

In Italy, Cyprus, Spain, Greece, Malta and San Marino approximately one in five boys (ranging from 18% to 21%) are obese. France, Norway, Ireland, Latvia and Denmark are among the countries with the lowest rates, ranging from 5% to 9% in either sex.

However, despite the overall high rate of overweight and obesity in countries from Southern Europe, in several there has been a decrease, WHO reports.

Several countries reported that three quarters or more of boys and girls are eating fruit either every day or most days (between 4-6) of the week.

These include Ireland, Denmark, Albania, Montenegro, Portugal, Italy, San Marino, Russia (Moscow) and Turkmenistan.

Children in these countries also had lower consumption of foods like pizza, French fries, fried potatoes, hamburgers, sausages or meat pies, consuming them 1-3 days per week or never.

Joao Breda, head of the WHO European Office for Prevention and Control of Noncommunicable Diseases, said in countries like Italy, Portugal, Spain and Greece although rates are high there has been “an important decrease”.

“This is attributable to a very significant effort that these countries have put in recent years into management and prevention of childhood obesity,” 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. It also very important to increase the awareness of parents and families to the problem of child obesity, given that our data show that many mothers do not recognise their children as overweight or obese,” he added.