HBSC study: Czech children putting on weight, every fifth is obese

From the HBSC study infographic. Reproduction: Žurnál UP
Wednesday 26 June 2019, 12:08 – Text: (eds)

More than one fifth of Czech schoolchildren are either overweight or obese. Moreover, the year-by-year comparison shows that the number of children with excessive weight is increasing. On the other hand, findings on eating habits are positive. Teenagers eat more fruits and vegetables and fewer sweets. These findings come from the latest data collected by scientists from the UP Faculty of Physical Culture, who have long been investigating the lifestyle of adolescents.

More than one fifth of the population of Czech children aged 11–15 struggles with their weight. Fifteen percent are overweight, and six percent of adolescents are obese. Boys are more likely to have weight problems than girls – both in terms of overweight and obesity. “It is important to monitor not only the current situation but above all the development over time – and that is, unfortunately, negative. I must point out the increased incidence of obesity among 15-year-old boys and the increase in the number of overweight girls aged 13 as well as 15,” said Michal Kalman, the leader of the Olomouc research team.

Overweight, obesity, and self-esteem

The researchers also focussed on body image – they were interested in how children perceive their weight. They found out that 29 percent of overweight or obese girls do not admit this fact. Among overweight boys, it is 41 percent. On the other hand, one fifth of the girls consider themselves fat, even though their weight is normal. “We also know that almost one third of 13- and 15-year-olds are negative about their own weight. We assume that what plays a big role here is age-sensitive self-esteem in combination with the ubiquitous social pressure to have a slim figure,” suggested Kalman.

Regarding excessive weight, researchers at Palacký University also noted certain regional differences. Children have the least problems with overweight and obesity in Prague, whereas the largest problems are in North Bohemia. However, most obese children are in the Hradec Králové Region. “In our research, we have also focussed on the opposite. We found that five percent of adolescents were underweight. So, when we add five percent of the underweight to twenty percent of the heavier weight, it appears that one quarter of the Czech children’s population faces some weight-related abnormalities,” Kalman pointed out.

More fruits and vegetables, fewer sweets

Contrarily, the eating habits of Czech youth are improving. Children are increasingly reaching for fruits and vegetables. Even considerably more than is common in Europe and the rest of the world. Almost one half of Czech children aged 11–15 years eat at least one piece of fruit a day, and 37 percent of them have vegetables. Adolescents also consume fewer sweets than in previous years. Their daily consumption of sweets showed almost a one-third decrease in those aged 13 and 15 years, compared to data from 2010. One third of children do not eat candies at all, or they have access to them only rarely.

From the nutritional point of view, the findings on the first meal of the day are also important. In 2018, 49 percent of 11- to 15-year-olds had breakfast every school day. Perhaps surprisingly, more boys than girls start the day with breakfast. Less surprisingly, with increasing age this habit diminishes – while 57 percent for eleven-year-olds have breakfast, at the age of 15 it is only 42 percent. “Interestingly, there is a relatively large group of children, roughly one sixth, who do not have breakfast on weekdays. At the same time, they regularly add breakfast to their daily routine over the weekends. Is it because they have more time for everything on Saturday and Sunday? And would more Czech children have breakfast from Monday to Friday if school started later?” Kalman concluded.

The team from Palacký University has been monitoring and commenting on the factors influencing the health of Czech schoolchildren aged 11, 13, and 15 for a long period of time. Altogether 230 schools have participated in the current research, and more than 13,000 children have provided their answers.

The HBSC study (Health Behaviour in School-Aged Children), conducted under the auspices of the World Health Organization (WHO), addresses the lifestyle of the young generation in a complex way. In addition to the latest data on overweight, obesity, and eating habits, it also focusses on the consumption of alcohol, tobacco, cannabis, and sweetened and energy drinks. Selected data including infographics can be viewed or downloaded via a new web presentation www.zdravagenerace.cz.


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