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Every second child aged six to nine is overweight, warn specialists
HALF of Spanish children aged six to nine are overweight and nearly one in five are clinically obese, warn paediatric dieticians.
According to Dr Empar Lurbe of the Spanish Society for Obesity Research (SEEDO), unless the problem is dealt with quickly, today's youngest schoolchildren may have a life expectancy lower than that of their parents.
The most recent data comes from the Aladino study of 2015, created by the ministry of health, and shows that 23.2% of six- to nine-year-olds are, although not actually obese, clinically overweight.
Numbers tend to drop off after about the age of 11, probably with the onset of puberty, pending 'growth spurts' completed and 'puppy fat' reducing – mainly in the case of girls, the ministry says.
It has also found a correlation between household income and children being overweight.
In families earning less than €18,000 gross per year (about €1,275 a month for employed workers or €1,000 a month for the self-employed), 54.8% of young children are severely overweight or obese.
But in families earning €30,000 or more gross per annum (about €2,125 per month for employed workers or €1,850 for the self-employed), obesity rates in children drop to 22.6%.
This is likely to be due to a combination of high-fat, high-sugar processed foodstuffs being cheaper than fresh, healthy produce, and parents being able to afford for their children to take part in active hobbies.
Dr Lurbe says young adolescents who are clinically obese or severely overweight are more likely to be so as young adults – according to the research, children who are unhealthily heavy between the ages of 10 and 14 have a 20% greater chance of being very overweight between the ages of 21 and 29.
Factors which increase risk of obesity in childhood and, later, in adulthood, are not only linked to diet and exercise, but also to birth weight, says Dr Lurbe – a child who is much heavier than average when born is more likely to have to grapple with weight problems in later life.
She warns that excess body weight is strongly associated with the onset of high blood pressure, Type II diabetes, cardio-vascular problems including heart conditions and stroke, and even certain types of cancer.
Among ways of preventing childhood obesity, Dr Lurbe says women should aim to be as fit and healthy as possible before and during pregnancy.
Chairman of the SEEDO, Dr Francisco J. Tinahones, says the first 1,000 days of a person's life are critical in determining whether or not they will go on to suffer weight problems.
He says obesity has doubled in incidence in Spain in the last 20 years, to which he attributes factors such as fewer hours of quality sleep and 'greater climate comfort', meaning people burn off fewer calories regulating their body temperatures, and 'changes in gut bacteria', as well as the more obvious causes such as diet and physical activity.
Dr Tinahones says measures such as those taken in some cities in the USA should be employed in Spain – for example, in New York, restaurants are obliged to state the number of calories in each dish on the menu, free drinking water dispensers are in place in all shopping malls, cycle lanes set up, and 1,000 fruit and vegetable trucks have been given licences to sell their wares on the street.
All this has seen a 1% drop in childhood obesity in New York.
Dr Tinahones also refers to steps taken by the State of Oklahoma, where cycle lanes have multiplied, sugary products attract extra tax, and every school has a gym – the results of which have turned one of the USA's most notoriously fat regions into one of its most healthy.
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