A WEIGHT management expert has said, ‘be prepared for a shock’ when data is published showing how much childhood obesity has risen in Scotland during the pandemic.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) warned that Covid-19 could potentially amplify “one of the most worrying trends in Europe”.

School closures and reduced access to meals and physical activity for children is likely to have widened inequalities, it said.

Tam Fry, of the National Obesity Forum, said anecdotal evidence from clinics “confirmed European fears”.

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A major report by the WHO looking at rates of childhood obesity in Europe found that Mediterranean countries had the highest rates.

Data collected from 250,000 children aged six to nine in 36 countries found that 40% were overweight in Cyprus, Greece, Italy and Spain. Up to 24% of boys and 19% of  girls in those countries were obese. However, children in Italy were more likely to eat fruit and vegetables daily than most other countries.

The Herald:

Spain had the highest percentage of overweight boys - 48% of nine-year-olds were an unhealthy weight, followed by Greece (46%) and Italy (41%). Obesity amongst girls was highest in Cyprus at 19%.

The lowest proportions of overweight children were observed in Asian countries such as Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan, where 5% to 12% of boys and girls were overweight.

Overweight and obesity stabilized or declined in some of the 13 European countries where it was possible to examine trends over time. Greece, Italy, Portugal and Spain, which all have the highest rates of obesity, as well as Slovenia showed a decreasing trend for both overweight and obesity.

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Some of these countries implemented WHO-recommended measures to help tackle obesity rates, such as imposing taxes on sweetened beverages, food marketing restrictions and physical education classes.

The UK did not take part in the study.

Tam Fry of the National Obesity Forum said: “Tragically Scotland cannot be compared to the Mediterranean countries during the years under review. 

“It is the more alarming since a scattering of reports from our clinics confirm the European fears that Covid-19 will increase our obesity figures.

“Because we still have no working policy to tackle the problem, and Primary surveys have been not been possible during the pandemic for obvious reasons, no-one knows for sure by how much Scotland’s statistics will have risen.  

“But when the figures are finally published, be prepared for a shock."

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On average, almost 80% of children had breakfast every day, around 45% ate fruit daily, and around 25% consumed vegetables daily.

However, country-level figures for these healthy habits varied widely: daily consumption ranged from 49% to 96% for breakfast, from 18% to 81% for fruit, and from 9% to 74% for vegetables.

The Herald:

Children with more educated parents were more likely to engage in sports/dancing in most countries. However, children of less educated parents were more likely to walk or cycle to and from school.

The WHO European Childhood Obesity Surveillance Initiative (COSI) report will be presented at this week’s European Congress on Obesity, which is being held online.