Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Three compulsory physical education lessons per week in schools across Europe?

The Culture and Education Committee of the European Parliament adopted by an overwhelming majority a report by the Hungarian member of parliament Pal Schmitt. This report concluded that physical education should be compulsory in primary and secondary schools and that children should at least have three physical education lessons per week. The report also calls for a better integration between sports and academic subjects in schools.

The recommendations are of great importance given the growing rates of overweight and obesity among European youth. Despite this obesity epidemic, the time allocated to physical education in schools has gone down from an average of 121 minutes per week to 109 since 2002.

The report is scheduled to be put to a plenary vote in November in Strasbourg.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Obesity prevention: the young and the old

Obesity prevention efforts are mostly aimed at young people. More and more initiatives are trying to encourage ‘ obesopreventive’ behaviours among children and adolescents not only through health education but also, for example, by introducing extra physical education and activity hours in the school curriculum, changing what is for sale in the school canteen, or otherwise trying to make the school a more health behaviour friendly environment (see for some Dutch projects example http://www.rotterdamlekkerfit.nl/, http://www.onderzoekinformatie.nl/nl/oi/nod/onderzoek/OND1293890/). The rationale behind a focus on youth is that children’s lifestyle habits may not be as firmly established and may be easier to modify and that overweight in childhood and adolescence is a strong determinant of life-long overweight.
Younger adults are another important target group for obesity prevention. Young adults in the age group of 25-35 or 40 years of age, go through important life course phases that often lead to lower physical activity levels and changes in eating habits. This group is also responsible for razing the next generation and is therefore of utmost importance for obesity prevention among children. The national prevention-of-overweight campaign of the Netherlands Nutrition Center is primarily aimed at this target group (http://www.voedingscentrum.nl/voedingscentrum/Public/Statisch/English+summary/).
However, the group with the highest prevalence of overweight and obesity is the elderly. On Thursday professor Marjolein Visser gave her inaugural address as professor of Nutrition and Health and she addressed this issue in a crystal clear manner. Professor Visser is head of the Department of Nutrition and Health (http://www.falw.vu.nl/Onderzoeksinstituten/index.cfm/home_subsection.cfm/subsectionid/6E313033-1279-D040-8BFBBC0F92E88FA1) and her chair is established at the institute of Health Sciences ate the VU University and at the EMGO Institute of the VU University Medical Center (see http://www.emgo.nl/) The evidence she provided showed that Dutch elderly today are much less physically active than a decade ago, and that the prevalence of obesity has doubled in that period among some groups of elderly people (see http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/sites/entrez?Db=pubmed&Cmd=ShowDetailView&TermToSearch=16425851&ordinalpos=12&itool=EntrezSystem2.PEntrez.Pubmed.Pubmed_ResultsPanel.Pubmed_RVDocSum). A study reported by Slingerlandt and others also indicated that Dutch elderly change their physical activity patterns when they retire (http://aje.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/content/full/165/12/1356). It is clear that obesity prevention should not be restricted to one age group, but deserves a true life course perspective with interventions specifically tailored to the different key age groups.