The study, based upon data on the ‘nutritional status’ of the under-fives in 32 of the 53 World Health Organisation member states, shows 27 per cent of children in Ireland are overweight or obese and 23 per cent in the UK.
Researchers from Emory University in Georgia, USA and the World Heath Organisation’s (WHO) regional office in Europe, who carried out the study, also found that Albania, Georgia, Bulgaria and Spain have high rates of childhood obesity.
In comparison, Kazahkstan has the lowest obesity rate at just one per cent, followed by the Czech Republic where six per cent of children under the age of five are overweight or obese.
The authors go on to make a number of suggestions as to why there could be such a variation in child obesity rates across the country.
Rebecca Jones from the Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University said, ‘We think it is likely that, in countries with lower obesity rates, breastfeeding practices are playing a part as well as incorporation of nutrition education towards mothers and physical activity at young ages.
‘It is possible that in countries with high child obesity, there could be a relationship to adult obesity, since there is strong evidence that child weight status is associated with mother’s weight status particularly at these young ages when a child’s health is solely dependent on the caregiver.’
In light of the findings, the authors of the study are calling for greater early intervention before five years of age to prevent children becoming overweight.
In order to obtain data to reflect the whole of Europe, they also want better surveillance of children’s’ ‘nutritional status’ across the 53 WHO member states.
Dr João Breda from the WHO Regional Office for Europe, said, ‘While it is generally recognised that nutritional surveillance data is crucial for the development of targeted action and the monitoring progress and success in counteracting obesity, regular assessments of the magnitude of overweight and obesity, particularly in children are not common in the 53 WHO European Member States . However, evidence suggests that early intervention before five years of age is necessary in order to take action.'