Children in families with non-native ethnicity are more likely to become overweight and obese, according to the results of a survey in seven European countries published this week.

While obesity levels are rising among children across Europe, the researchers found the levels are generally higher among children who have a non-native mother tongue, or whose parents who were born in another country.

"We have found several possible causes of the difference between native and non-native families," said project leader Professor Johannes Brug, of the VU University Medical Center of Amsterdam. "The consumption of soft drinks tends to be higher in children from non-native families, and regular meals such as breakfast may get skipped more often. The children also watch more television and participate in less sporting activity. However, they do walk or cycle to school more often."

"Cultural and lifestyle differences need to be set in the context of family resources, including skills and education but also financial resources and access to support and health information," he said. "Lower educational status is a risk factor for obesity in all communities, and is a contributory factor for these families."

"We should also recognise that the differences between native and non-native families is smaller than the differences between families in southern and northern Europe," he added. "National factors matter more than immigration status."

Over 7,000 families in Belgium, Greece, Hungary, the Netherlands, Norway, Slovenia and Spain were included. The research is supported by a €2.9m grant from the European Commission, and will include pilot testing new interventions designed to reduce sedentary behaviour in children aged 10 to 12 years.

Posted by Penny Hosie