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Tuesday, 25 November 2014

The threat of childhood obesity by Eva Stamou

Obesity is rarely mentioned in the Greek news. While the UK makes a big issue of it, and expends a great amount of time, effort and money into thinking up solutions for the problem, in Greek news, we simply get the latest results of an obesity survey, mentioned in passing in the news, and that's about it. Everyone is left to their own devices. Not that this is wrong, since obesity does have a lot to do with the food habits of the home environment, but it does seem wrong that no one is trying to find a solution to it, especially when Greece apparently claims the greatest weight levels for children aged 6-9 in Europe. The article below appeared today in Protagon. I have translated it into English in order to add (even) a (small) Greek voice to the global debate. 

Inter-school sports day for primary school children in Hania:  I took this photo in June 2008

According to the survey results of the World Health Organisation which were released last month, the childhood obesity rate in Greece is among the highest in Europe. Survey data concern the obesity rate and the 'more than normal' body weight for children aged 6-9 years in 16 European countries, including ours. One of the actions taken by the Greek Society of Obesity to address the scourge of childhood obesity is to establish "Obesity Week" (October 21 to 26) to inform and raise public awareness. One week is not enough however.

We can laugh over the developments related to the case of the "new food" program devised by Michelle Obama, and the comments of American students on twitter, but in Greece the situation is just very sad. The absence of welfare interventions in our country is a trait that dates back to long before the economic crisis. Nutrition, dental, and psychiatric care during childhood and adolescence, unfortunately, remains almost inactive, not just because of limited resources but also because of the famous Greek discontinuity of party-appointed authority, which constantly creates obstacles and misunderstanding among public bodies.

Competent bodies should not ignore the relative economic status and dietary choices of the population, which is confirmed by the survey data, showing that childhood obesity is present at an increased incidence in low family incomes - but they should also not underestimate the role of prevention and systematic information to the public in the way that this works in all the other European states. It might also be good of the parents if, apart from seeking support from doctors, nutritionists and psychologists, they think seriously how they themselves can help their children, changing their way of life.

My work in Britain with families of adolescents suffering from eating disorders made me realize how painful and multidimensional this issue is. The first thing that psychology takes into account when facing the problem of childhood obesity is the eating habits of parents. If the child grows up copying the wrong habits of his/her parents - who may or may not be obese, according to their body type - it is necessary to address the problem as a problem of the whole family. Those using certain food items, such as sweets, as "bait" to encourage the child to do or not do something, or as a "painkiller" when the child is sad, help to create not only obese children, but also obese adults, since we can reproduce the wrong perception about food, which we acquired as children for the rest of our lives.

With the guidance of experts, parents are wise to set and follow certain dietary rules, so that they themselves provide the good example, even if they are not overweight. It is important to encourage the child to be involved in sports and exercise, helping them to choose something that suits the body type and temperament of their child. It is equally important not to devalue the child, to avoid comparisons with friends and classmates, so as to not create guilt about the child's extra weight.

The time has come for us to understand that childhood obesity is a threat to the individual and to public health. This disease is directly related to physical and mental disorders, which usually appear in childhood and are maintained into adulthood. An organized scientific approach on the part of the state is now compulsory.

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