A reduction in the number of people eating the mediterranean diet in Spain has contributed to a growing child obesity epidemic in the country reports scientists.
The research was carried out by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and was presented at the European Congress on Obesity in Glasgow.
The study highlighted the increasing levels of obesity now prevalent in southern European countries, which have long been associated with the healthy diet and lifestyle.
It has proven by numerous scientific studies, that the mediterranean diet which is rich in fish, nuts, olive oil, fruit and vegetables has a myriad of health benefits. However it now appears that a large number of the Spanish population are ditching the diet and consuming more high calorie convenience foods instead.
The result is that the country has seen a steady rise in the number of children who are now classed as obese. The recent report reveals that Spain now has the second highest number of obese six-to-nine year-olds in Europe with around 17% within this age group now obese.
Young Spanish boys within the same age range are also thought to be the fourth most obese in Europe behind children in Greece (20%), Italy (21%) and Cyprus (21%).
The study which analysed the data of 636,933 six-to-nine year-olds from a total of 21 European countries, suggested that around 4% of primary school aged children in Greece, Italy, Spain and San Marino are now severely obese.
Malta had the highest percentage of obese youngsters, with a total of 5.5% affected.
The study, which was one of the first of its kind to study the severe obesity levels in young children was lead by Dr João Breda, World Health Organisation’s European office for Prevention and Control of Noncommunicable Diseases.
Researchers said, “Severe obesity is a serious public health issue and the results of this study show that a large number of children in Europe suffer from it,”.
Although the problem could be attributed to a number of factors, researchers believe the primary cause is the decline in the mediterranean diet, which is high in whole grains, oily fish, nuts, vegetables and olive oil.
“The loss of the Mediterranean diet in southern European countries could be linked to this severe obesity problem,”
“Given its impact on education, health, social care and the economy, obesity needs to be addressed via a range of approaches, from prevention to early diagnosis and treatment.” the researchers said.
The study used data from 636,933 six- to nine-year-olds, and the findings indicate that there are at least 400,000 children who are already severely obese of a total 13.7 million six- to nine-year-olds in the 21 countries included in the study.
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