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Joyce Patrick, health promotions coordinator at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, Germany, says one of the problems contributing to children’s weight problems is a lack of excercise. She says too many kids spend their free time playing video games or sitting in front of some other screen.
Joyce Patrick, health promotions coordinator at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, Germany, says one of the problems contributing to children’s weight problems is a lack of excercise. She says too many kids spend their free time playing video games or sitting in front of some other screen. (Seth Robson / S&S)

European edition, Sunday, September 2, 2007

The percentage of children with weight problems at Department of Defense Dependents Schools-Europe has doubled in the past four years, according to a government survey.

The survey, conducted by the Center for Health Promotion and Preventive Medicine-Europe in each of the last four school years, shows nearly one in three of more than 6,000 children tested at DODDS-Europe schools last year was overweight or at risk of becoming overweight, CHPPM epidemiologist Andrea Snyder said Thursday.

“Over the last four years, there has been a steady increase (in the proportion of overweight children). It started at 15 percent and it has gone up to 30 percent,” she said.

The survey involved screening children in kindergarten through 12th grade at 12 schools in Kaiserslautern and Baumholder. This year, some other U.S. military communities in Europe may replicate the survey, she said.

Researchers used data on children’s height, weight and age-based body mass index — or BMI — set by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, she said.

“According to the U.S. studies, about 80 percent of children found to be overweight as adolescents will be overweight as adults and keep the weight on permanently,” Snyder warned.

The health screenings used in the survey were sent to all the parents of the children involved, letting them know their child’s BMI in relation to age, height and weight, she said.

Joyce Patrick, health promotions coordinator at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, said technology is contributing to children’s weight problems.

“We live in a toxic environment where technology makes it easy for kids not to move,” she said.

“They spend time playing video games. There is a lot of screen time. You don’t have to move to communicate or interact. Kids’ norm is to not be moving.”

Lack of recess time for children to both play and eat at school, and easy access to unhealthy food are other factors in what has become an obesity epidemic, Patrick said.

The Army and Air Force Exchange Service provides most school meals in Europe, although some school meals are supported by the Navy Exchange Command and Morale, Welfare and Recreation, according to AAFES spokesman Lt. Col. David Konop.

He provided fact sheets on AAFES school meals that show they must meet U.S. Department of Agriculture nutritional guidelines. Those guidelines specify that school lunches meet one-third of the calories needed by school-age children. The meals must contain the proper amount of five key nutrients — protein, calcium, iron, vitamin A and vitamin C — and total fat content must be less than 30 percent of calories with less than 10 percent of calories from saturated fat. The guidelines apply as an average over the course of a week.

“Students and their parents have a choice to either purchase the meal offered by AAFES or to bring in their own lunch from home,” he said.

There is no simple answer to the problem of childhood obesity, Patrick said.

“It is not just a childhood obesity problem. It is all over the States and other countries. It is our lifestyle and behavior. It is a good life, but it is killing us,” she said.

The whole community needs to be involved in reducing childhood obesity, she said.

“It is not just parents or schools. It is going to take changing our norm back to a reasonable balance,” she said.

A program instituted by health officials to address childhood obesity in Kaiserslautern, called Shakedown, involves the child’s family, mental health staff, nutritionists and a pediatrician who help the family make healthy lifestyle choices. A similar program — called 2-1-5 — is under way in Schweinfurt, she said.

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