The prevalence of overweight and obesity among children is increasing in Hungary, with inadequate or excessive intake of some nutrients. The unhealthy lifestyle in the growing years could significantly worsen the health status in adulthood.
The nursery and elementary school aged children are in that period of their life, when education could make a noticeable difference in developing proper nutritional habits and taste preferences. As the target group is changing rapidly, and extensive nutritional data is rarely available for this age group, a dietary survey could provide a good opportunity for contributing to the improvement of the national education programmes on health promotion, and also give inputs for product reformulation processes of the food industry.
For that reason the Hungarian Dietetic Association and Nestlé Hungary established a professional cooperation in order to survey the BMI, dietary intake and physical activity patterns of children between the age of 4-10.
The sample is representative of the 4-10 year old children of Budapest and Kecskemét city, reaching a total number of 799 validated records. The dietary assessment was executed, using the internationally accepted 3 day dietary record method. Body mass index was also calculated from the measured body weight and height, grouping children into the underweight, normal weight, overweight and obese categories (Cole et al). The survey was done under professional supervision during the whole study: filling, checking, verification and recording of the 3-day dietary records were done by dietitians, trained by the Hungarian Dietetic Association, thus ensuring authenticity of the data.
21% of the children that participated in the study were overweight and obese, the highest (28%) being elementary school-aged boys. There was a positive correlation between higher BMI and higher energy intake in both age groups with a 20% energy difference between the underweight and obese BMI groups. This could be rarely demonstrated in adulthood.
As for the other parameters, adult-like problems could be identified in the dietary patterns of children as well - inadequate consumption of vegetables, fruits and whole-grain meals, and excess intake of fatty cold cuts, refined grains and salt. These habits result in excessive fat intake, unfavourable composition, excessive cholesterol and added sugar intake, inadequate dietary fibre and extremely high sodium consumption.
These factors together could increase the risk of developing cardiovascular diseases and carbohydrate metabolism disorders in adulthood. Low calcium and vitamin D intake seen in the early stages of life, partly as a result of the inadequate dairy consumption, could mean a risk for osteogenesis abnormalities. Needless to say, that obesity which is a cumulative risk factor of the above, adds to risk of developing non-communicable diseases in adulthood.
The results prove that nutrition education during early years of life should be high priority in which all stakeholders, like parents, governmental and non-governmental organisations, education and healthcare institutions as well as the food industry play an important role.
The Hungarian Dietetic Association in cooperation with other professional bodies, governmental organizations and universities, and with the support of food industry is managing and supervising more educational programmes in Hungary, targeting children of all age groups.
The survey created an awareness not only for consumers, but the key opinion leaders as well through different communication channels and a press event.