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Society

Greece, UNICEF Collaborate to Fight High Levels of Child Obesity

ATHENS – With obesity in adults already a concern in Greece as people move away from the Mediterranean diet to fast food and other unhealthy factors, the phenomenon among children is going to be looked at.

An agreement to help lessen child obesity was signed by Minister for Health Thanos Plevris, General Secretary for Public Health Irini Agapidaki, and UNICEF’s Representative in Greece Luciano Calestini.

According to the World Health Organization’s European Regional Obesity Report 2022, Greece ranks third among European countries with overweight and obese children under the age of 5 (a ratio of 1 in 8 children).

At the same time, Greece ranks second in obesity for the ages 5-9 and first among European countries for obese 10-19 year-olds. Overall, approximately 1 in 3 Greek children is overweight or obese.

WHO’s European Childhood Obesity Surveillance Initiative (COSI) found that 42 percent of Greek children 7-9 years are either overweight or obese, placing Greece second among 33 countries  in the study published in 2022.

The Greek Health Ministry devised the National Action Plan against Childhood Obesity in Greece in collaboration with UNICEF. The plan will be implemented on a national, regional and local level nationwide as of June.

It’s not a new problem. The country’s 2010-18 economic and austerity crisis that cut pay, raises taxes and made life miserable for many also led to rising levels of child obesity that haven’t abated.

An ongoing study by the University of Crete into childhood obesity in 2016 warned then that the problem may stem from the time of conception.

“We need to get rid of the notion that childhood obesity is linked exclusively to increased food intake and less physical activity,” said Leda Hadzi, a Professor of epidemiology and nutrition who spearheaded the RHEA Study in 2007.

“These factors alone do not explain the child obesity epidemic in this country,” where 44 percent of boys and 38 percent of girls at school age are overweight or obese, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, she said.

Hadzi, whose team was monitoring 1,500 children, said that “the children are now 8 years old and one in three is already overweight or obese,” a statistic that has continued to today.

Every 200 grams that a pregnant woman gains in the first trimester increases her child’s chances of becoming overweight by 25 percent, Hadzi said, adding that smoking and exposure to pollutants also weigh against the child’s development.

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