Childhood obesity New WHO report with Bremen participation presents latest country data and highlights trends

Childhood overweight and obesity threaten health across the World Health Organization (WHO) European Region and are linked to many noncommunicable diseases, from cardiovascular disease to diabetes and cancer. Today, one in three school-age children in the Region suffers from overweight or obesity, and rates continue to rise in many countries. High-quality data is needed to find better solutions to this problem. Bremen is the first German state to participate.

Kids with Skateboard.

How can childhood obesity be prevented?

The WHO Regional Office for Europe presents a new report from the Childhood Obesity Surveillance Initiative (COSI). The findings are based on the latest data collected in 33 countries in the WHO European Region between 2018 and 2020. In total, nearly 411,000 children aged six to nine years were measured. For the first time, the report includes data from Armenia, Germany [city of Bremen] and Israel - countries that have newly joined COSI.

"Bremen is the first German state to participate in the survey," explains Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Ahrens, head of the Department of Epidemiological Methods and Causal Research and deputy director of the Leibniz Institute for Prevention Research and Epidemiology - BIPS. He adds: "Our primary goal is to set the course for a healthy life course at an early stage. This is exactly what the findings of the COSI report can contribute to. Looking at the data, however, I find it alarming that there has been no reversal of the trend in childhood obesity so far, even though there have been numerous prevention attempts for two decades. We should now focus on finding out which interventions really help against childhood obesity and which don't." The COSI survey is conducted in Bremen jointly by WHO, the state of Bremen and BIPS.

Key findings

Overall, 29 percent of children aged seven to nine years in the participating countries were living with overweight (including obesity). Prevalence was higher among boys (31 percent) than girls (28 percent).

"The report's findings show that one in three children is still living with overweight or obesity. We need to accelerate our actions to reduce these levels," said Dr. Kremlin Wickramasinghe, director of WHO's European Office for Prevention and Control of Noncommunicable Diseases, among others, which produced the report. "We urgently need better policies that can help us reverse current trends in childhood obesity - especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, which is considered a dangerous driver of overweight and obesity."

Bremen at European average for overweight

Overall, 28 percent of children aged seven to nine in Bremen lived with overweight (including obesity). At just under one-third, the state is very close to the European average. Children in Cyprus (48 percent), Greece (44 percent) and Italy (41 percent) are most affected by overweight (including obesity). Particularly few overweight children (including obesity) live in Tajikistan (7 percent), Kyrgyzstan (11 percent) and Turkmenistan (12 percent).

Bremen's children eat relatively large amounts of fruit and vegetables

Bremen does better than obesity when it comes to nutrition: 58 percent of children eat fruit every day. This puts the state directly behind the European leaders from Portugal (63 percent), Ireland (61 percent) and Denmark (60 percent). The European average is 43 percent. In terms of the proportion of children who eat vegetables every day, Bremen is also above the European average of 34 percent at 41 percent. The leaders here are also Denmark (57 percent), Portugal (57 percent) and Ireland (45 percent).

The next COSI survey will start in Bremen in the 2022/23 school year, and the researchers are once again hoping for the numerous participation of students and their parents, as well as the support of teachers.

BIPS - health research in the service of people

The population is at the center of our research. As an epidemiological research institute, we see our task as identifying causes of health disorders and developing new concepts for disease prevention. Our research provides the basis for social decisions. It informs the population about health risks and contributes to a healthy living environment.

BIPS is a member of the Leibniz Association, which comprises 97 independent research institutes. The orientation of Leibniz institutes ranges from natural, engineering and environmental sciences to economics, spatial and social sciences and the humanities. Leibniz Institutes are dedicated to socially, economically and ecologically relevant issues. Due to their national importance, the federal and state governments jointly fund the institutes of the Leibniz Association.