From the Mail
16 May, 2008
Britain's couch potato children are now among the fattest in Europe
British children are among the worst in a Europe-wide obesity league table, with around a third weighing more than they should.
A couch potato lifestyle and a growing appetite for fast food is blamed for our boys and girls weighing in near the top of a 27-country fat league.
The findings come as a leading doctor warned that surgery such as stomach stapling will have to be used on children soon to tackle the obesity crisis.
Scottish girls take second place in the female rankings, with almost 33 per cent overweight. English girls are fourth, with 29.3 per cent too heavy for their height.
The heaviest girls are in Portugal (34.3 per cent), while the slimmest are in Latvia and Lithuania (3.5 per cent overweight).
Among the boys, Scotland was again second, with almost 35 per cent too heavy for their height. Only Spanish boys are heavier.
English boys are in sixth place at 29 per cent - compared to the lean lads of Lithuania, where only 8 per cent are overweight.
Obesity experts said the results could be partly explained by a couch potato lifestyle, in which TV dinners have replaced family meals and computer games are preferred to outdoor play.
Dr Tim Lobstein, of the International Association for the Study of Obesity, said: "There is a big industry selling us more TV to watch, more computer games to play, more DVDs to sit and watch.
"There is a big industry promoting screen watching which is a sedentary behaviour and you just get fatter while you do it."
The figures, which were compiled by the IASO from government and scientific studies, come as British doctors warn they are treating children as young as two for obesity.
Drastic stomach surgery, including gastric banding, is being carried out on children as a last resort.
Type 2 diabetes, which was once a problem for overweight middle aged adults, is being diagnosed in teenagers, and chubby children are being equipped with masks to ensure they do not suffocate in their sleep.
Dr Steve Ryan, medical director of Alder Hey children's hospital in Liverpool, said: "There are more and more of these children and significant numbers are obese from two or three years old.
"When I was a paediatrician starting out in 1991, there were very few children overweight but that has changed and we are starting to see complications resulting from this.
"It is here and we are having to deal with it."
But while British youngsters totter near the top of the heavyweight league, children in other countries are starting to lose weight.
New data shows rates of childhood obesity are stabilising in France and falling in Switzerland.
Restrictions on the advertising of junk food to children, the banning of vending machines in schools and national healthy eating drives may all have played a role in the change, the European Congress on Obesity heard yesterday.
Obesity experts welcomed the figures but warned the situation is still bleak - particularly in the UK, where rates of child obesity have quadrupled since 1984.
Dr Lobstein, director of the IASO's childhood obesity programme, said: "It is encouraging that there may be some signs this tidal wave of obesity is easing but it is not really subsiding, it is only stopping at a high level.
"The tide has come in but it is not going out. And in Britain, it is still coming in and is rising. The old picture of a jolly fat person couldn't be further from the truth.
"Although some fat people might indeed be jolly, the majority don't enjoy their condition and wish they were slim."
Dr Ian Campbell, medical director of the charity Weight Concern, said childhood obesity could only be tackled by parents, schools and government working together.
Safe, accessible exercise facilities and nourishing and affordable meals should be a priority, he said.
• Cash is the most effective way to get children to lose weight, according to a study.
More than 100 families were given either a low carbohydrate diet, a low energy diet or support in the form of a weekly motivational letter.
The final option was giving children a cash bonus each time they improved their body mass index. The congress heard that cash was the best motivator for children.
For adults it was a combination of all four methods.