Scientists at the Sahlgrenska Academy, University of Gothenburg, have been taking part for many years in a European project initiated by the World Health Organization. This project collects data on height and weight of children aged 7-9 years.
One in six were overweight
The most recent measurements in Sweden, taken in 2008, covered 4,600 children in 94 schools across the country. The measurements showed that one in six children in Grades 1 and 2 were overweight, and approximately 3 % of these were obese. The prevalence of overweight and obesity were higher in rural areas, and among children whose parents had a low level of education.
Most countries in the project repeated the investigation in 2010 and 2013. Lack of funds, however, meant that it was possible to carry out these follow-up measurements only in Västra Götaland.
The measurements did not show any changes in the prevalence of overweight and obesity in children in Västra Götaland. The socioeconomic differences were still prevalent, and there was a tendency towards an increased social gradient in obesity in girls.
The consumption of sugary drinks had decreased among children with highly educated parents, but remained constant among children with parents with less education.
15 % inactive large parts of the day
The studies also showed that most children in Västra Götaland watched TV, used a computer or read for more than 2 hours every day after school. Around 15% were inactive for more than 4 hours of the day.
Children in urban areas and those with highly educated parents were less inactive and participated in sport on more days of the week than children in rural areas. The latter, however, played outdoors more often.
The studies are presented in Lotta Moraeus’ doctoral thesis and show that inactivity among children in Västra Götaland has generally increased during the past 5 years.
“What worries us most, however, is that the socioeconomic differences in overweight and obesity remain, and have increased in certain cases,” says Lotta Moraeus.
Serious lack of knowledge
The scientists in Gothenburg believe that a system to follow the development of children from all groups in society throughout Sweden is necessary.
“There is no continuous national survey or follow-up of the height and weight of children in Sweden. On the contrary, there is a serious lack of knowledge about how overweight and obesity are developing among children,” says Lotta Moraeus.
“For this reason we suggest that the measurements that are already carried out by the child- and school health services are preserved. This would make us independent of research funding. It requires, of course, that the same equipment and methods are used for the measurements, and that a common system for reporting the information is created.”
The thesis Surveillance of childhood obesity in Sweden – focus on lifestyles and socioeconomic conditions was defended at a dissertation on 26 September.
Lotta Moraeus, research student at the Sahlgrenska Academy, University of Gothenburg
Cell: +46 70 912 6136
Principal supervisor Agneta Sjöberg, University of Gothenburg, +46 31 786 4204, [email protected]