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Proportion of overweight and obese children stable in Norway

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New data from the Child Growth Study in Norway show that the proportion of children with overweight and obesity seems to have stabilised over the last years. The results were presented in May with the report Children’s Health and the Environment – Risk and Health-Promoting Factors.


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In 2008, the Child Growth Study in Norway began as part of the European Childhood Obesity Surveillance Initiative (COSI) established by the WHO Regional Office for Europe. The aim of COSI is to routinely measure overweight and obesity among primary school children in about 20 countries for a long-term, inter-country comparison within Europe. The Norwegian Institute of Public Health is responsible for collecting and analysing the results for the Child Growth Study in Norway (Barns vekst i Norge). 

The Child Growth Study is the only study to follow the development of overweight and obesity among a specific age group (8-9 year-olds) nationally over time.

13 – 17 per cent are overweight

The Norwegian Institute of Public Health has carried out measurements among third graders in the same 125 schools in 2008, 2010, 2012 and 2015.

The latest data obtained in autumn 2015 shows that: 

  • On average, 17 per cent of girls and 13 per cent of boys are overweight (including obesity). 
  • Most overweight children are not obese, assessed by weight and height. The average percentage of obesity was 2.3 per cent among boys and 3 per cent among girls.

Waist circumference was also measured in the Child Growth Study. The measurements show that: 

  • On average, 6.5 per cent of boys and 8 per cent of girls have abdominal obesity, i.e. a high waist-to-height ratio.

Abdominal obesity appears to increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes later in life.

Small differences between boys and girls

The percentage of overweight (including obesity) is slightly higher among girls than boys. The difference between the sexes is small both in terms of obesity and abdominal obesity. The group with obesity is also relatively small, and the figures are therefore uncertain.

Folkehelseinstituttet
Folkehelseinstituttet

Figure 1. Percentage of overweight (including obesity), obesity and abdominal obesity for boys and girls in third grade, 2015. Source: Child Growth Study, Norwegian Institute of Public Health. The figure comes from the report Children’s Health and the Environment – Risk and Health Promoting Factors, 2016.

Stable proportion

From 2008 to 2015, the proportion of boys and girls with overweight (including obesity) seems to have stabilised. Figure 2 shows the development from 2008 to 2015. 

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Figure 2. Percentage of overweight (including obesity) among boys and girls in third grade from 2008 to 2015. Source: Child Growth Study, Norwegian Institute of Public Health. The figure is from the report Children’s Health and the Environment – Risk and Health Promoting Factors, 2016.

“It is good that the average proportion of children with overweight and obesity appears to have stabilised. Parents, childcare centres and schools have done a great job by drawing attention to diet and physical activity. They are key players in promoting health and reducing social inequality,” says Ragnhild Hovengen, Project Manager for the Child Growth Study at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health. 

“Although the incidence of overweight and obesity among children appears to have stabilised in recent years, it is still important to monitor future developments,” she adds.

Slight increase among adolescents

For adolescents, on average 23 per cent of 17-year-olds are overweight (including obese) when we see the country and both sexes as a whole. This emerges from the chapter on overweight and obesity in the report Children’s Health and the Environment – Risk and Health Promoting Factors. These data are collected from the Norwegian Armed Forces and are based on self-reported data from 17-year-olds, who are required to complete an online form before compulsory military service (Session 1). 

Both data from the young-HUNT study in Trondelag in the period 1995 to 2008 and from the Armed Forces in 2011 to 2014 suggest that there has been a slight increase in the percentage of adolescents aged 15-17 who are overweight or obese, see figure 3.

BHR 2016 overweight figure 3.jpg

Figure 3. Percentage of overweight and obese among 17-year-olds (both sexes) from Session 1, by health region from 2011-2014. Source: Vernepliktsverket (Military Service). The figure comes from the report Children’s Health and the Environment – Risk and Health Promoting Factors, 2016.

Geographical differences

Measurements from the Child Growth Study from 2008 to 2012 showed regional differences. Figures for 17-year-olds also show that there are regional differences, with the highest proportion of 17-year-olds with overweight and obesity in the health region North and the lowest percentage in the South-East, see figure 3. 

For 17-year-olds we see that health region North has a higher proportion of overweight and obesity than the South-East. Do we see similar numbers for eight-year-olds in the Child Growth Study?

“Previous measurements from the Child Growth Study suggest regional differences. So far we have not analysed the 2015 figures for regional differences,” says Hovengen.