The lead author of a pan-European study of pre-school health believes there needs to be "a new approach to prevent obesity".

More than one in eight children in Northern Europe are obese according to the study with that figure rising to more than a quarter in some parts of Southern Europe. 

Dr Yannis Manios from Harokopio University in Athens co-ordinated the ToyBox study and said: "Young children are naturally energetic and they like being physically active since for them this is a way to interact socially and make friends. 

"However, in the opposite direction, the natural human preference for sweet tasting and energy-dense foods and drinks is leading children towards these food items whenever they are exposed to them. 

"For these reasons, obesity prevention programmes should try to ensure that children have free time and space to be physically active, create a healthy food and drink environment but also guide teachers and parents on how they can promote such behaviours."

The project, set up with a €2.9m grant from the European Commission, included data from ten countries across Europe including the Universities of Roehampton and Durham as well as the International Association for the Study of Obesity.

Dr Manios and his team also highlighted the need for health-promoting policies saying: "We found that many countries are lacking clear guidelines on healthy eating and active play.

"However, there is good evidence linking sedentary behaviour with subsequent obesity. Therefore, TV-watching in kindergartens should be replaced by more active, non-competitive, fun activities which will promote the participation of the whole class and help children to achieve optimal growth, health and well-being."

The team hope to use the research to develop a new programme designed to help kindergartens in 6 EU-countries to promote healthy snacking, water consumption, physical activity and limiting sedentary activities such as TV-watching and playing computer games.

For more information on the study visit www.toybox-study.eu 

Posted 05/03/2012 by richard.hook@pavpub.com