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News Article

European children not consuming enough vegetables.


Fewer than one quarter of children surveyed ate vegetables daily.

On World Obesity Day 2021, WHO Europe highlighted the need to promote healthy eating habits in children. In its recent round of obesity surveillance in Europe it found fewer than a quarter of 6-9 year old European children consumed vegetables daily and less than one half consumed fruit. On a brighter note, it showed that most children usually consumed breaskfast and only one in 10 consumed sweet snacks or soft drinks daily. The study, published in Nutrients shows that there is an urgent need to improve children’s diets to avoid obesity and long term health problems.

The study explains that a healthy diet in childhood sets the foundations for lifelong diet and health. Such a diet includes adequate amounts of fruit, vegetables, legumes,nuts and wholegrains and limits sugar, saturated fats and highly processed foods. The WHO European childhood obesity surveillance initiative (COSI), begun in 2006, contributes to achieving healthy diets and lifsyles in children by collecting information children aged 6-9 years across Europe via their primary school. The authors of this study explain that data are used to help countries set targets and monitor trends and determine the effectiveness of interventions. They report that in 2015-2017, around 12% of boys and 9% of girls were obese. This study reports on the diets those children were consuming and 132,489 children participated.

The child’s parent or carer filled out the questionnaires estimating intake over around one week. For each item the respondents could answer ‘never’, ‘less than once’, ‘some days’, ‘most days’ and ‘every day’. The survey asked how often the children consumed fresh fruit and vegetables, savoury snacks, sweet treats, and sugary drinks

The study reports that:

  • 78.8% of children eat breakfast. The lowest perceptage was in Kazakhstan (48.9%)
  • 42.5% of children consume fresh fruit every day. The highest daily consumption was in southern Europe (60-80%) and lowest consumption was in Central Asian countries (less than 34%) with the exception of Turkmenistan (70.1%)
  • 22.6% of children consume vegetables every day ranging from 9% in Spain to 74% in San Marino. The percentage of children consuming vegetables less than once a week was higher in west Asian countries . Boys were much less likely to consume vegetables
  • 10.3% of children consume sweet snacks and the highest daily consumption was in Bulgaria (22.8%) and Turkmenistan (21.1%)
  • 9.4% of children consume soft drinks on a daily basis.The percentage was lowest in Northern Europe and highest in Central Asia.
  • Savoury snack consumption varied widely with higher consumption in southern Europe and Asian countries.
     

The authors say ”This paper highlights an urgent need to create healthier food and drink environments, reinforce health systems to promote healthy diets, and continue to support child nutrition and obesity surveillance.”

They highlight the ‘bright spots’ of good overall breakfast consumption. But say there is some ‘opportunity’ to improve fruit and vegetable consumption. They suggest that schools could play a part in improving children’s diets by folloing quality standards for food they provide as well as educating children about diet. They call for governments to provide fiscal incentives or subsidies and to restrict marketing of unhealthy foods.

The WHO Europe initiative plans to update these data periodically.

The countries participating in the study were: Albania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czechia, Denmark, Georgia, Ireland, Italy, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Lithuania, Latvia, Malta, Montenegro, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russian Federation (Moscow only), San Marino, Spain, Tajikistan, Turkey, and Turkmenistan.

 

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(diets or "eating habits" or "food consumption") and children and Europe

 

Reference

Julianne Williams, Marta Buoncristiano, Paola Nardone, Ana Isabel Rito, Angela Spinelli, Tatjana Hejgaard, Lene Kierkegaard, Eha Nurk, Marie Kunešová, Sanja Musić Milanović, Marta García-Solano, Enrique Gutiérrez-González, Lacramioara Aurelia Brinduse, Alexandra Cucu, Anna Fijałkowska, Victoria Farrugia Sant’Angelo, Shynar Abdrakhmanova, Iveta Pudule, Vesselka Duleva, Nazan Yardim, Andrea Gualtieri, Mirjam Heinen, Silvia Bel-Serrat, Zhamyla Usupova, Valentina Peterkova, Lela Shengelia, Jolanda Hyska, Maya Tanrygulyyeva, Ausra Petrauskiene, Sanavbar Rakhmatullaeva, Enisa Kujundzic, Sergej M. Ostojic, Daniel Weghuber, Marina Melkumova, Igor Spiroski, Gregor Starc, Harry Rutter, Giulia Rathmes, Anne Charlotte Bunge, Ivo Rakovac, Khadichamo Boymatova, Martin Weber and João Breda. A Snapshot of European Children’s Eating Habits: Results from the Fourth Round of the WHO European Childhood Obesity Surveillance Initiative (COSI). Nutrients 2020, 12(8), 2481; https://doi.org/10.3390/nu12082481

 

More about COSI

https://www.euro.who.int/en/health-topics/disease-prevention/nutrition/activities/who-european-childhood-obesity-surveillance-initiative-cosi/cosi-publications

 

Article details

  • Author(s)
  • I. Hoskins
  • Date
  • 08 March 2021
  • Subject(s)
  • Nutrition & health