The Minister of Health, Thanos Plevris and the General Secretary of Public Health, Irini Agapidaki signed today a program agreement with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the Organization’s Diplomatic Representative in Greece, Luciano Kalestini for the program prevention and combat of childhood obesity.
The Ministry of Health in collaboration with the UNICEF designed the National Action against Childhood Obesity in Greece. The National Action will be a pioneering program, which will be implemented on a multi-level scale (National, Regional, Local Level) throughout the Greek territory.
The program is expected to start in June of this year and has been included in the planning of actions of the “Spyros Doxiadis” program which are included in the Public Investment Program (PIP) of the Ministry of Health and come from Union resources of the Recovery and Resilience Fund. Greece 2.0 with funding from the European Union – NextGenerationEU.
Health Minister, Thanos Plevris declared:
“Tackling childhood obesity is one of the main priorities of our government. The fact that we rank high in the EU in childhood obesity shows that we need to take immediate action so that our children have a better future with a better nutrition, exercise and weight control from an early age. In this direction, our collaboration with UNICEF gives us the possibility to develop such a program so that in the coming years we can see the tangible results of the reduction of childhood obesity indicators”.
UNICEF’s Diplomatic Representative in Greece, Luciano Calestini referred:
“Childhood obesity is a serious and a growing global public health threat. Without an immediate response, more than half of the world’s population will suffer from obesity by 2030, with the most disadvantaged and immediately threatened group being the children. By then, the required global medical costs to treat obesity-related diseases are estimated at $4 trillion annually, without even considering the broader social and economic impacts. In Greece, it is estimated that around 600,000 children under the age of 14 are obese or overweight, which is equivalent to almost two out of five children. Today, through this multi-year, cross-sectoral collaboration between the Ministry of Health and the UNICEF Office in Greece, funded by the EU’s Recovery and Resilience Mechanism (RRM), we have the opportunity to take a bold and meaningful step forward to tackle and reverse this public health crisis together, for our children and for our country, while creating a comprehensive model of best practice to tackle childhood obesity within and beyond the borders of the EU.”
The program includes primary, secondary and tertiary prevention actions targeting all children aged 0-17 years, as well as their families, seeking on the one hand to reduce the risk factors and socio-economic inequalities responsible for the appearance of obesity during childhood and adolescence and on the other hand, to combat the consequences of overweight and obesity, which often lead to the appearance of chronic diseases and multimorbidity during adult life.
Specifically, it enables:
– the entire Greek student population to participate in actions of varying intensity, frequency and dynamics in order to promote healthy eating behaviors and physical activity, which will take place within the school units at all levels of compulsory education (kindergartens, elementary, middle and high schools) with the active participation of teachers, as well as parents and guardians,
– parents to receive free personalized clinical assessment and counseling on health, development, nutritional status of their children, as well as on the risk factors related to the onset of childhood obesity and to treat them in time, in the context of regular visits to their pediatrician,
– school-age children and their families with already established risk factors for obesity or other chronic diseases to receive free counseling services (nutrition counseling, counseling to change health behaviors) in the form of tele-counseling by properly trained health professionals (dietitians, trainers, et al.) and
– overweight and obese school-age children with already established diseases and complications to be referred to specialized pediatric units for further follow-up by specialized health professionals.
At the same time, in context of the National Action against Childhood Obesity in Greece, a new research center, the European Center for the Fight against Obesity, will be established at Harokopion University, with the aim of producing research, ideas and policy proposals, but also with an active role in scientific coordination and in the scientific evaluation of the National Action.
Globally, the incidence of childhood obesity shows an increasing trend. According to the World Health Organization’s European Report on Obesity published in 2022, Greece ranks third (3rd) among European countries with overweight and obese children under the age of 5 (1 in 8 children). At the same time, for the ages 5-9 years and 10-19 years, it is in the second (2nd) and first (1st) position among European countries, as approximately 1 in 3 children (37.5% and 35% respectively) are overweight or obese. In addition, according to the European Childhood Obesity Surveillance Initiative (WHO European Childhood Obesity Surveillance Initiative-“COSI”) published in 2022, at the ages of 7-9 Greece ranks second (2nd) among 33 countries that participated, with 42% of children in this age group being overweight or obese.
The action is implemented within the framework of the National Recovery and Resilience Plan Greece 2.0 with funding from the European Union – NextGenerationEU.