A health expert has sounded the alarm over the obesity problem in Greece, especially among teenagers, and called for the government to promote healthy eating and increased physical activity.
The weight of the average 18-year-old Greek man and woman has increased by 15 and 7 kilos respectively over the last 20 years – 2-4 kg more than their peers in America, and 3-5 kg more than other Europeans, Yannis Koutentakis, professor emeritus of the University of Thessaly said in an interview with the Athens-Macedonia News Agency (AMNA).
“Despite the information from the domestic scientific community, Greece is still among the world champions of obesity, especially in younger age groups,” he said.
He stressed that most overweight children and adolescents will become overweight or obese adults, with all the negative consequences for individual and public health and huge economic, social and national implications.
“Addressing the phenomenon should be a government priority,” he added.
He pointed out that according to research the lack of physical activity (hypoactivity) explains about 65% of obesity cases in both boys and girls in the country and only 18-20% of these cases have been linked to poor nutrition.
Given that the average daily energy intake (calories) in Europe only increased by approximately 14% in the period 1961-2012, while in the same period, obesity had a huge increase of 140%, it is clear that the factor “insufficient physical activity – exercise”, a consequence of the lifestyle of the last decades, explains the rise in childhood obesity in Greece.
Therefore, there is a need to increase the daily average of vigorous physical activity inside or outside of school for young people by at least one and a half hours.
“This could be achieved by adding many short intervals of physical activity (walking to school, cycling, sports) so as to cover the dosage of around 1,800 calories per week,” the health expert said.
The childhood obesity rate in Greece is one of the highest in Europe
A separate study published last year concluded that 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.
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.