Childhood obesity tails off in France and Switzerland

Geneva  - Switzerland and France have seen a slight fall or levelling off in childhood obesity in recent years, according to three new studies published Thursday at the European Congress on Obesity meeting in Geneva.

Researchers said greater public awareness and national public health initiatives could be the reason for the improvement.

In France, two studies revealed a "levelling off" in the prevalence of childhood obesity, though there were marked differences regarding social class with the problem remaining worse in poorer children.

Dr Katia Castetbon, from the French National Institute for Health Surveillance said: "Public health policy has changed a lot in France since 2000 but we cannot prove that the stabilization is due to these interventions. There has been an increased awareness of the issue of obesity in children and it's possible that this general awareness has had some impact."

The institute's study of random school children aged 7 to 9 in 2000 found that 18.1 per cent of the 1,582 children studied were overweight, including 3.8 per cent who were obese.

In 2007, 15.8 per cent of 1,014 children studied were overweight, including 3 per cent who were obese.

A second study by the French Food Safety Agency Dietary Survey Unit drew similar conclusions. The rates of obesity were up to three times higher though comparing the lowest socioeconomic group to the highest.

France still has one of the lowest rates of childhood obesity in Europe, though in recent years it had been increasing.

In Switzerland, a national survey involving more than 2,300 6-13-year-olds in 2007 showed 16.7 per cent of boys and 13.1 per cent of girls were overweight, compared to almost 20 per cent in 2002.

Researchers carried out the study to assess the impact of national and regional health initiatives to combat obesity.

Isabelle Aeberli, who carried out the survey for the Swiss Federal Office of Public Health, said the decrease was a surprise. "There have been a lot of smaller studies and projects in schools to counteract the increase in overweight and obesity shown in 2002."

She believed increased public awareness, television advertising and school-based nutrition programmes have helped control the problem. (dpa)