Difference between obesity in children

McDonald's fries junk food obesityEmpty box of fries from McDonald's. Photo: Pixabay.com

Difference between obesity among girls and boys

Research shows that overweight boys live more unhealthily than girls in the same situation. Researchers and health authorities ask themselves if they have approached the problem of obesity in the wrong way.


Measures against obesity and overweight among children and adolescents have only proved to be successful to a small degree, and one of those who thought it might be time to look at differences among girls and boys – is Lisa Ha Barstad at the Centre for obesity in Health South-east. Barstad is a Clinical Nutrition Physiologist and works as a researcher at the hospital in Vestfold, Tønsberg.

Earlier this year, Barstad published a study that looks at risk factors for cardiovascular disease in 268 adolescents aged 12 to 18 suffering from obesity. Among the findings in the study were significant dissimilarities between the obesity among girls and boys.

– One should be aware that there are gender differences, boys are, for example, more likely to sit in front of a computer screen and girls are more likely to skip breakfast. The boys also have a higher intake of soda containing sugar and eat fewer vegetables. At the same time, there is also higher blood pressure among the boys, says Barstad to NTB.

– It is therefore important to have an increased focus on measures that can reduce sedentary seating and promote regular meals, but it may be particularly important to talk about limiting the screen time for the boys and about the importance of breakfast with the girls. We need more research on good and early steps to promote healthier lifestyle habits in children, and whether the measures we choose should be different for boys than for girls, she says.

Lifelong importance

Studies show that obesity in adolescence is associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease in adulthood.

– Boys with obesity have more lifestyle-related risk factors for cardiovascular disease than girls in the same situation. Healthcare professionals working with this patient group should, therefore, be aware of possible differences in the risk profile between the sexes. In addition to measuring blood pressure and taking blood tests, it is important to ask about habits that can increase the risk of lifestyle problems later in life, she says.

The report «Health condition in Norway» from the Norwegian Institute of Public Health was issued in May and show an improvement in Norwegians health in several areas, but not for obesity and diabetes.

Minister for Seniors and Public Health, Åse Michaelsen (Progress Party), tells NTB that one of the measures the Government will provide is an early effort aimed at children and adolescents.

– It’s about providing them with a good start, healthy habits and disease prevention. We must look for the places where children and adolescents people are formed, she says.

The whole family

Prior to the start of school, Barstad recommends caretakers to have a gettogether with their children and adolescents, establish good dietary habits and facilitate for meals and physical activity. It all boils down to a basic principle of having a proper balance between energy intake and consumption.

– Too large portions of food and high calory food will make the energy intake exceed what the body needs to function. Regular meals including breakfast can make it easier to regulate the food intake throughout the day and help ensure that the total energy intake does not exceed what is needed on a day without activity, she says.

Finally, she emphasises that an adult who skips breakfast every day and sits in front of a screen is not a good role model.

– I think it’s beneficial if the whole family is involved in a change in lifestyle, whether it is about screen time, sleep patterns, activity or diet. Parents are important role models, and a healthier lifestyle is good for adults as well, she concludes.

Facts about obesity in children and adolescents

  • Roughly 1 in 6 Norwegian children and adolescents are overweight or obese. The proportion has in recent years been stable for children but is slightly increasing among adolescents.
  • Among 8-year-olds, 13 per cent of the boys and 17 per cent of the girls are overweight or obese.
  • Figures from draft data reveal that about 23 per cent of 17-year-olds is overweight or obese.
  • The proportion of overweight and obese children is smaller in families where the adults have upper secondary or college education.
  • The proportion of overweight children is 50 per cent higher in rural areas than in cities.
  • Overweight and especially obesity at a young age often follows you through life and increases the risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer later in life. Obesity also affects health and quality of life in childhood and adolescence (WHO, 2000, 2016).
  • Studies of today’s composite lifestyle measures against overweight and obesity show that treatment works well for some, while others do not benefit from it at all.
  • In 2017, 353 Norwegians who were operated for obesity in Norwegian hospitals were 30 years old or even younger. That is a record number and constitute an increase of 172 per cent in just ten years.
  • The increase is largest among the youngest. 32 people 20 years or younger were operated for obesity last year.


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