Obesity is a major health problem in developed countries. Overweight hinders movement and worsens the quality of life in adulthood, as it is the cause of cardiovascular and circulatory diseases, but its negative effects can also be observed during childhood and adolescence.
A report produced by the Finnish National Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) based on fresh data from the School Health Promotion Survey found that overweight among young people was also linked to a number of other variables connected to health behaviour and physical and psychological well-being.
The conclusions, published on 30 August at THL's website, are very strict: young people classified as overweight are more likely than their non-overweight peers studying at the same school level to report excessive psychological strain and physical symptoms such as neck and shoulder pain, tiredness and headaches.
Difficulties to make friends
But that is not all. The study also highlights that overweight people tend to have more difficulties in relating to others and to be victims of unwanted attitudes and behaviors by those around them. "In addition, overweight and obese young people were also more likely to not have a close friend or experience bullying or sexual harassment", THL says.
The National Institute for Health and Welfare stresses how social attitudes towards the obese people and the related stigma can further exacerbate the problems for overweight youth, particularly if they also have other issues relating to their well-being.
"Bullying and exclusion must always be dealt with. In addition to support measures targeted at young people, it is also particularly important to shift attitudes within society and take account of how, for example, overweight among children and young people is handled in the media", says Research Professor Tiina Laatikainen, from THL.
The study also found overweight and obesity linked to a number of variables related to young people's background and family situation, such as their socio-economic status. In families with poor economic situation, overweight among young boys and girls was more common than among those at the same school level who were more wealthy.
The research results also highlighted the importance of early prevention and providing psychological support to the children and young people.
"Preventing overweight requires broad cooperation and social measures that involve a number of different actors and that aim to support families in promoting exercise and healthy eating habits among children and young people and reducing the consumption of high energy food products that have poor nutritional content", explains Development Manager Päivi Mäki from the National Institute of Health and Welfare.
Among those social measures aimed to address this problem, THL recommends the provision in early education services or schools of increased exercise opportunities and food that complies with nutritional guidelines or regional planning measures such as comprehensive non-motorised traffic networks and well-maintained parks.
Social measures to be applied
The National Institute for Health and Welfare believes that by means of health promoting social measures aimed at families with children and all age groups of children and young people, it is possible to promote health equality and to close the health gaps resulting from the child’s or young person’s background.
This study used the data from the young people who participated in the 2017 School Health Promotion Study to examine the relationships between overweight and young people’s background variables, subjective health condition, well-being and lifestyle. In 2017, a total of 139,829 young people participated in the School Health Promotion Study.
Overweight youth tripled
According to the National Institute for Health and Welfare´s FinTerveys 2017, the number of overweight children and youth tripled in the past 30 years. Among those under 17 years of age, almost 25% of boys are overweight, whereas one-in-six girls suffer the same problem.
As for the adults, in 2018 the share of obese persons among those aged 20 to 64 was 21% for men and 20% for women, according to Statistics Finland. The percentage of obese women was slightly lower than that of men, on average, in the 1990s and early 2000s, but from 2004, differences between the sexes have been minor in this regard.Source: National Institute for Health and Welfare (THL).
Persons with a body mass index of 30 kg/m² or more are considered obese in statistical terms. However figures are calculated on the basis of self-reported weight and height.
The CIA, in its country profile on Finland, estimates the percentage of obesity at 22.2% (2016).