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A healthy diet and sport: the best weapons against overweight among children

The average German child is growing fatter: research shows that too little physical activity and an unhealthy diet are making children ill. Overweight also, sadly, causes social problems. The only way to reverse this trend is through a healthy diet and sport.

15 per cent of all children in Germany are overweight and 6 per cent are clinically obese – their excess weight has an adverse effect on their health. Overweight children often have psychological problems because their peers tease and bully them, but they also face a lifetime of poor health. People  who were overweight as children often go on to suffer from cardio-vascular problems, diabetes and bone and joint problems in adulthood; psychological problems are often a major contributory factor.

Too little physical activity and an unhealthy diet

The past few years have seen a radical change in the leisure activities of German children. Many children now travel to school by bus, train or car rather than walking. After school, they tend to socialise virtually, in online chat rooms, and spend many hours a day in front of the television or computer screen. Many children don’t do enough sport, either – the range of electronic media promotes sedentary behaviour, and heavy traffic makes it less attractive to play outdoors, at least in towns. Then there is the easy availability of fast food: supermarkets have long opening hours, and a phone call to the pizza delivery company is all it takes to get unhealthy food delivered right to your door.

Overweight among children is also a social problem

Weight problems among children are unevenly distributed across the social classes. Children from socially disadvantaged or migrant families are more likely to have weight problems than other groups in society. Major factors contributing to over-eating and excess weight among children include their parents working irregular hours, poor family cohesion, and a lack of after-school care, according to data on overweight and obesity obtained by the Robert Koch Institute as part of the ‘German Health Interview and Examination Survey for Children and Adolescents’ (KiGGS). The result is a downward spiral of social problems, frustration leading to overeating, and a sense of shame at being overweight hampering physical activity.

So what can be done? A healthy diet and sport!

It isn’t easy to help fat children, and the whole family has to be involved in changing their eating and activity patterns in the long term. It helps to cook and eat meals together at home. Visits to fast food restaurants should be few and far between. And as well as eating a healthy diet, children and families should also be more physically active! Children need to be active on a daily basis, whether playing out of doors or joining a sports club. There are lots of special projects to help overweight children to start enjoying physical activity again without fearing that they have to keep up with children of the same age who are of normal weight.

Schools also have a large part to play here, of course, but unfortunately, the two or three hours of sport a week that most schools offer are not enough to meet children’s needs. As a result, many teachers build short breaks into their lessons to give students a chance to move around: research has shown that physical movement boosts children’s ability to learn.

Overweight among children is a pressing problem that urgently needs attention, not only from parents, teachers and doctors, but also from society as a whole before it reaches epidemic proportions in Germany.

Is child obesity a global problem?

It’s not just German children who are overweight and not doing enough physical activity, however. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimated in 2011 that more than 43 million children around the world under the age of five are overweight; three quarters of them live in poor countries and many in Africa . This trend can be attributed to lifestyle changes, including less physical work and an increased reliance on motorised transport to travel short distances, and to the rising consumption of processed foods containing high levels of fat, salt and sugar.

The main priority in developing countries is still to combat under-nutrition, but the WHO is also urgently concerned that these countries should not ignore the growing obesity problem.

Discussion in the ‘Sport and integration’ community group

Overweight children and a lack of physical activity are not solely a German phenomenon. Does your society also face these problems? And if so, has your country come up with any solutions? We would love to discuss these and other issues concerning overweight children with you in the ‘Sport and integration’ community group.


Author: Elena Krüskemper

December 2013

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