1 in every 3 Spanish children is overweight

Food habits, a sedentary lifestyle and the lack of sleep are, according to experts, the main causes of childhood obesity and overweight

More than a third of the Spanish children are overweight, a figure that ranks Spain as one of the countries with the worse statistics in Europe and the world in childhood obesity. This has been confirmed by Dr. Rafael Casas, author of the 1st First Study on the current situation of childhood obesity and overweight children in Spain, in collaboration with DKV Seguros, within the framework of the Cómo Como Festival in Barcelona, dedicated to healthy eating.

“According to the 2015 Thao Study, conducted over a sample of 20,308 children in Spain, 33.2% have excess body weight (19.5% overweight and 13.7% obese)”, highlighted Dr. Casas, a specialist in psychiatry and a reference in the field of childhood obesity. He also added, “the causes arise from many factors, but they are mainly related to abandoning the Mediterranean diet, a sedentary lifestyle, the hours of sleep and even other factors that arise during pregnancy.”

In this line, the expert has highlighted that these changes in habits are, mostly, a consequence of a lack of social awareness, and especially among parents regarding the importance of following a series of healthy habits from an early age. Dr. Casas thinks that “many parents don't know that food preferences should be taught from an early age and, as they are their children's role models, they should follow these healthy habits and include them in the process of educating their children.”

Little fruit and vegetables, physical inactivity and a lack of sleep, the main causes

Regarding the consumption of vegetables, the recommendation is to eat at least 2-3 raw (salad) or cooked (dish or side dish) vegetables every day, which is nowhere near the current situation. According to the data provided by DKV's collaborating doctor, 62% of children eat vegetables every day, but just 25% eat them twice a day; that is, 3 in 4 children do not fulfil the recommendation of 2-3 vegetables a day.

A sedentary lifestyle is another cause that explains the current high percentage of obese or overweight children. In spite of Dr. Casas saying, “the recommendation is not to spend more than 2 hours inactive”, the number of children playing in the street or the park or spending their leisure time carrying out a physical activity has dropped in favour of an increase in inactivity due to the rise of the new technologies and their introduction in our daily routine. “And if we combine a sedentary lifestyle with the current bad habit of frequently consuming high-calorie products and high-sugar drinks, we achieve a considerable nutritional imbalance”, explained the expert.

There is also a factor that affects overweight and is mostly unknown to society and parents: the children's hours of sleep. According to the author of the "First Study on the current situation of childhood obesity and overweight children in Spain", there is currently a worldwide tendency of sleeping less hours than those recommended, and this habit is being transmitted to the younger ones: “there are parents that believe children must sleep the same hours as adults, but they should know that minors who sleep less than the hours recommended -between 11 and 13 hours in preschool age and between 10 and 11 hours in school age- gain weight more easily.”

However, to solve this situation and fight against overweight in minors, experts believe that the key factor is prevention. In addition, Dr. Casas has pointed out that "childhood obesity is a public health problem and, therefore, it must be tackled using measures that affect the different agents involved: parents, teachers, paediatricians, public authorities and, of course, the children.” In this sense, he has reminded us about initiatives such as those carried out by DKV in the #Apptívate programme, which includes, among others, the Chair of Education for Health at the Parents University, the School Mile programme or the Runners4Health videogame, to promote healthy habits and fight against child obesity and overweight.

The Cómo Como Festival, during which the conference by Dr. Rafael Casas -a DKV collaborator and coordinator of educational projects to promote healthy habits- was delivered, is the first large festival dedicated specifically to healthy eating and especially aimed at parents and children. During its third edition, which took place on the 14th, 15th and 16th at the Port of Barcelona, the visitors were able to enjoy lectures with experts in the sector, cooking shows and children's workshops.