The childhood obesity rate in Greece is one of the highest in Europe, as 41% of children aged 10 to 12 in Greece are overweight or obese.
The Greek Parliament’s Standing Committee on Social Affairs sought out to better understand the issue of childhood and adult obesity in the country and to determine strategies to fight the issue during a presentation held on Friday.
Scientists discussing the topic presented a startling picture of obesity in Greece–over 38% of the country’s population is overweight and 32% are obese, while 21% of children under the age of 9 are overweight or obese.
The obesity rate in Greece ranks among the top ten highest in Europe, with one in six Greeks considered obese in 2019.
Greece among top ten countries with highest population of overweight and obese people in Europe
According to Eurostat, the European countries with the highest overweight populations were Croatia and Malta, where 65% of their adult populations are considered overweight.
Italy (46%), France (47%), and Luxembourg (48%), have the lowest shares of overweight adults in Europe.
In every country in Europe, including in Greece, men are more likely to be overweight or obese than women. This also applies to children in Greece, as boys are more likely to be overweight or obese than girls in the country.
Additionally, education levels are linked to obesity rates across Europe, as more educated people tend to have lower rates of obesity than people with lower levels of education.
According to obesity experts speaking before the Greek Parliament, the rates of obese or overweight children are higher in rural areas of the country than in urban areas.
Experts argue that parents, rather than the children themselves, have the greatest ability to affect change in their children’s diet and weight, but that cultural beliefs and perceptions about food may impact their decisions.
According to Giannis Marios, Professor of Nutrition at the Harokopeio University in Athens, 88% of parents of overweight and obese children in Greece consider their children’s weight to be normal, and 20% of parents with children of a healthy size believe that their children are actually underweight and actively encourage them to eat more.
Childhood obesity impacts academic performance, self esteem
Childhood obesity can have negative effects on their self esteem and even academic performance, University of Athens Professor of Health Economics Giannis Ifantopoulos stated during the presentation.
Children who are overweight and obese tend to participate less in school activities and sports, receive below average grades, and feel more insecure than their peers. “Children of a ‘healthy’ weight have a 13% better results in their classes and in their education,” Iphantopoulos stated.
Professor Giannis Kyriopoulos, also an expert in the field of health economics, likened obesity rates in Greece to a “metabolic bomb,” and argued not only for better education on nutrition in schools, but also for lower taxes on fruits and vegetables and higher taxes on junk food to incentivize parents to make healthier choices at the grocery store.
Data from around the world shows that children who are overweight or obese tend to have a greater risk of health problems in the future, including psychological effects such as depression and low self esteem.
Obesity has quite a large impact on health and quality of life, Dimitris Boubas, University of Athens Professor of Pathology and Rheumatology, stated.
“The chance of a person of normal weight reaching the age of 70 is 70%. For overweight people, the chance lowers to 60%, and for people who are morbidly obese, it’s 50%,” he stressed, linking obesity to a higher risk of health conditions such as hypertension, heart disease, asthma, and cancer.
As in much of Europe, obesity rates in Greece have been climbing in the country each year since the 1980s, with a particularly notable increase in beginning in the 1990s.
Many argue that this trend represents a turn away from the country’s traditional Mediterranean diet, which is considered one of the healthiest in the world, toward a more standard western diet that includes less fruits and vegetables.