Food Pharmacy

The Finnish city that managed to reduce obesity among children.

When we were young, there were hardly any children who suffered from obesity. One kid here and there would have a few extra kilos round their waist, something that probably wouldn’t even be considered as overweight in relations to today’s problems?

Today we live in a different reality – in just 20 years, obesity has become our new endemic disease and obesity among children and adolescents has increased tremendously. 20-25% of all teenagers are overweight and more than 3% suffer from obesity, according to figures from the Children Obesity Register. Children suffering from obesity don’t only develop insulin resistance, blood lipid disorders and liver damage. They also have a hard time becoming normal weight as adults – 80% of kids that are overweight or obese when they are 6-7 years-old are still overweight in late teens.

This is a troublesome development that unfortunately increases throughout the western world. Except in a small town in southern Finland.

Seinäjoki is a city in the Finnish region of Österbotten with around 60.000 inhabitants, where something very unusual has been achieved –  they have turned the childhood obesity curves around, and the proportion of obese children in several age groups has declined in recent years. The anti obesity program for ”Seinäjoki” started in 2013 when the local politicians noticed that obesity was a growing problem. The goal was to reduce obesity among children and adolescents and to prevent obesity-related illnesses as they grow older.

The schools have played a central role and, among other things, all lunches at the schools and preschools have been adapted so that the children will eat more fruits and vegetables in parallel with the decrease of salt, sugar and animal fat. In addition to this, daily classes are interrupted with short gymnastic classes to reduce the sedentary nature of regular lessons, and many classrooms are arranged so that students can stand up and work. Many of the schools have also added more activities for the children on their breaks.

Already after two years, the curves of obesity among children in the city had turned downwards. In 2009, 17% of all five-year-olds were overweight or obese. By 2015, the percentage had decreased to 10%. Even for seven and eleven-year-olds a clear reduction was noticed, from 14 and 16% in 2011, to below 10% in 2015. In 2015, WHO published these results, which put the small Finnish city on the map and made it an international model. During the last two years, many foreign delegations have visited the city to learn about the ”Seinäjoki model”.

It’s quite fascinating that relatively small changes in schools can make such a big difference to one of our biggest public health problems today.

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