Overweight and obesity are growing problems among Finnish children and youth. And causes can be sought at both the individual and societal levels, according to experts at the National Institute for Health and Welfare (THL).
The latest statistics published by THL show that one in every four boys (27%) aged 2-16 and almost one in every five girls (17%) is at least overweight. Among them, the percentages of those considered obese were 8% of boys and 4% of girls of the same age range.
THL defines children and young people as overweight (or obese) if they measure at least 25kg/m2 on the age and sex adjusted body mass index (BMI).
More boys than girls were recorded as overweight or obese across all age groups.
Being overweight or obese was more prevalent in school-age children than in pre-schoolers. Across the age ranges, 24% of pre-school age boys, 28% of primary school age boys, and 29% of upper secondary school age boys were at least overweight.
Similarly, 15% of pre-school age girls, 18% of primary school age girls, and 20% of upper secondary school age girls were at least overweight.
Individual and societal factors
According to THL, several factors contribute to overweight in children, both at the individual and societal levels.
“Above all, overweight is affected by the fact that our living circumstances have become more conducive to weight gain. There is an abundance of highly calorific foods and drinks and our activity levels have decreased”, explains Päivi Mäki, Development Manager at THL. “And it is concerning that overweight that begins in childhood all too often continues into adulthood," she adds.
Mäki explains that obesity is also connected to the psychological and physical health and wellbeing at early ages
“Promoting healthy lifestyles for children, young people, and families with children requires extensive cooperation, as well as health-promoting decisions and actions in different sectors of society. Examples of the measures taken at the societal level for all children, young people, and families with children include health-based taxation and restrictions on the marketing of unhealthy foods to children", Mäki continues.
The THL study revealed clear differences in the levels of overweight and obesity in children and young people across the various hospital districts and municipalities in Finland. However, height and weight data was not available from every hospital district and municipality.
Of the hospital districts for which these data were available, overweight in boys and girls was most prevalent in Western Ostrobothnia Hospital District (LPSHP) and least prevalent in the Hospital District of Helsinki and Uusimaa (HUS).
The variation in the proportion of overweight children and young people aged 2–16 by hospital district ranged from 24% to 35% in boys and from 15% to 22% in girls.