An increase in sedentary lifestyles from watching television and using electronic media contributes to obesity in childhood. A task force from the European Academy of Paediatrics and the European Childhood Obesity Group recently found that there is evidence of a strong link between obesity levels across European countries and childhood media exposure. The task force recommends that paediatricians routinely ask parents and adolescents about the family’s use of mass media, inform them about the general risks, educate them on how to use social media safely and ensure that they understand the importance of adhering to guidelines for a healthy diet, adequate physical activity and sleep.
It was observed from the COSI report that despite the high rates recorded in the period 2015 – 2017, a significant decrease in the prevalence of obesity was recorded over the last 10 years in Greece, Italy, Portugal, Slovenia, Ireland and Spain. This encourages us. Despite the fact that there is still a long way to go in defeating this ‘pandemic’ called obesity, there is indeed much hope for improvement if paediatricians, authorities, policy makers and families, all work together for a better and healthier lifestyle. Paediatricians play a lead role in advocating for the rights of children to access healthy food and drinks and an active lifestyle, and to be protected from the harmful effects of advertising and marketing. Establishing healthy behaviors at an early age allows children to develop a healthy growth trajectory. This asks for an approach across sectors and across the life course.
What Young EAP do
By raising awareness of the issue, young EAP urges paediatricians and other healthcare providers to identify and manage children who are (at risk of becoming) overweight or obese. In addition, preventive counselling should begin during preconception, and continue during infancy, and focus on healthy feeding, activity and family lifestyle behaviors. Techniques like motivational interviewing can be used to achieve healthy lifestyle modifications and should be trained during core paediatric training.
Young EAP also invites policy and decision makers together with healthcare authorities to reflect upon both the ill-effects and the financial burden of obesity and its complications. We encourage policy makers to invest in pro-health initiatives and in incentives within schools and families to prevent childhood obesity. In light of the increase in population density in some countries, one way to do this is to invest more in safe outdoor spaces for physical activity for children and families. Furthermore, as children spend a substantial amount of time at school, an increase of the allocated time for physical activity, standards for healthy food options, and elimination of sugar containing drinks from preschools and schools could have a significant impact on children making healthy choices. In addition, measures are required to facilitate making the healthier choice the easier choice, such as simple front-of-pack labelling of food products based on nutritional profiles, and restriction of advertising of food products to children. It is important that improvements are made across all sectors, including schools, home, health care, the food industry, communities and the public sector.
(Image Source: Recommendations of the Commission on Ending Childhood Obesity, European Commission)
About the authors:
Sian Copley is a 3rd year resident from the UK working in the North East of England and representing UK paediatric trainees within Young EAP and paediatric trainees/Young EAP within the EAP Advocacy Group.
Lenneke Schrier is the European Junior Doctor Representative to the European Academy of Paediatrics, and the Chair of Young EAP. She is a 4th year paediatric trainee at the Leiden University Medical Center in the Netherlands.
Veronica Said Pullicino is a 4th tear paediatric trainee in Malta, and she represents the Maltese paediatric trainees within the Young EAP.
Berthold Koletzko is a Prof. of Paediatrics at the Ludwig-Maximilians-University of Munich (LMU), a paediatrician at the Children’s Hospital and Children clinic of the Dr. von Hauner Children’s Hospital, and a EAP member.