Moscow hosts media launch of Russian HBSC report on adolescent obesity trends

WHO

On 6 June 2017 in Moscow, Russian Federation, the WHO European Office for the Prevention and Control of Noncommunicable Diseases with the support of the Russian Ministry of Health held a press conference to present the Russian-language version of the Health Behaviour in School-aged Children (HBSC) report on adolescent obesity.

The report, “Adolescent obesity and related behaviours: trends and inequalities in the WHO European Region, 2002–2014”, demonstrates the latest trends in obesity, eating behaviours, physical activity and sedentary behaviours of 11-, 13- and 15-year-old boys and girls. It covers 44 countries of the Region over the past 25 years and highlights gender and socioeconomic inequalities.

This is the first time the HBSC data on obesity and obesity-related behaviours have been brought together. They reveal trends over time and show the range and complexity of factors influencing childhood obesity.

Obesity as a chronic condition

Dr João Breda, Head of the WHO European Office for the Prevention and Control of Noncommunicable Diseases, emphasized that childhood obesity is one of the major public health challenges in the 21st century.
According to the report, the number of adolescents with obesity has increased in more than 50% of countries in the Region. This increase happens more quickly in the eastern part of the Region, reflecting the early stages of nutritional transition that these countries have entered.

“On average, 4% of the surveyed adolescents were obese in 2014, which is more than 1.4 million young people across Europe,” acknowledged Dr Breda. He described several severe consequences that may affect children in the future, as most of them will not outgrow obesity. In general, these children will still be at higher risk of ill health in addition to stigmatization and discrimination. “Being chronic in nature, obesity limits social mobility and maintains a damaging intergenerational cycle of poverty and ill health,” explained Dr Breda.

The report highlights the link between social inequalities and obesity among young people. In some countries, those living in low-income families are more likely to be obese and less likely to be physically active. They also have lower fruit and vegetable intake. These findings suggest that current efforts to promote health and prevent diseases among obese adolescents do not adequately reach the target population.

Using data to inform policy development

Dr Melita Vujnovic, WHO Representative in the Russian Federation, emphasized the value of the information provided by studies such as HBSC both for public health practitioners and policy-makers. These studies inform policy-making across the Region and enable the surveillance and monitoring of health outcomes in the population. Studies that use standardized methodology for data collection allow for comparison of trends over time and across countries, providing knowledge of what works and what governments should focus their efforts on.

Developments in the Russian Federation

Dr Anna Matochkina, HBSC Principal Investigator in the Russian Federation and scientific expert at the St Petersburg Scientific-Research Institute of Physical Culture, focused on the key findings of the report for the Russian Federation.

She emphasized that between 2002 and 2014 the prevalence of obesity in the Russian Federation increased by 4 times among girls and by 3 times among boys. In 2014, 2% of girls and 5.4% of boys in the Russian Federation were obese.

“Although the prevalence of physical activity is increasing among Russian adolescents, as well as the prevalence of fruit and vegetable intake, these still remain very low,” said Dr Matochkina.

She acknowledged the decrease in the amount of time that adolescents in the Russian Federation spend in front of television screens, but also noted that “the amount of time they spend sitting in front of computer screens has increased considerably”.

The well attended press conference resulted in the publication of numerous articles about the health of adolescents in Russian-language media outlets. It received wide coverage on Russian national television.