Ireland and UK have most obese under-fives in Europe

A World Health Organization study of 53 European countries looked at the nutritional status of children aged five and under

Better monitoring of children’s weight is needed according to a new Europe-wide study which found that Ireland and the UK have the highest levels of obesity in children under five.

Researchers reviewing publicly available data across Europe found that only 32 of the 53 World Health Organization (WHO) member states had data available on the nutritional status of children aged five and under.

Study co-author Dr Joao Breda, WHO Regional Office for Europe, Copenhagen, said: ‘Evidence suggests that early intervention before five years of age is necessary if the trajectory to overweight children is to be arrested and action needs to be taken to have consistent surveillance on this specific population.’

Ireland (27%) and the UK (23%) had the highest levels of obesity while Kazakhstan had the lowest (11%). Other countries where obesity numbers are low include Czech Republic, Belgium and Sweden.

Breastfeeding was likely to have played a part in keeping obesity levels low, study author Rebecca Jones of the Rollins School of Public Health, Emory University in Georgia, USA, said.

She recommended that member states use the WHO Childhood Obesity Surveillance Initiative (COSI), currently used in children aged between six and nine, for those under the age of five.

‘Very young children aged five years and under will be difficult to evaluate due to the inability to use schools for sampling,’ she said. ‘However, healthcare facilities are a potential target to achieve this.’

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