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Study: One in four first graders in Estonia overweight

A school cafeteria in Estonia. Photo is illustrative.
A school cafeteria in Estonia. Photo is illustrative. Source: Dmitri Kotjuh/Järva Teataja/Scanpix

One in four first graders in Estonia is overweight or obese, the results of a recently completed monitoring study presented on Wednesday reveal.

The study revealed that 16 percent of Estonian first graders are overweight, while one tenth are obese. 72 percent of first graders fall within a normal weight range, while fewer than two percent of children are classified as underweight.

More boys than girls are overweight, and more than three times as many boys as girls are classified as extremely obese.

The study revealed differences by county as well: there were fewer overweight children in counties with larger population centers, such as Harju and Tartu Counties. Lääne and Hiiu Counties had the most overweight children, and in the case of Hiiu County, there were more overweight girls than boys.

A significant factor identified in the study was the eating of breakfast — there were fewer (26 percent) overweight children among those who had eaten breakfast the morning of the study than among those who hadn't (32 percent). The proportion of overweight children was also smaller among those who reguarly participted in sports or physical activity.

Nearly half of all schools in Estonia offer breakfast in their school cafeterias. More and more schools, however, are offering sweets instead of healthy treats for snacks — while 56 percent of schools offer sweets, just a quarter to nearly one third of schools offer pupils option such as salads, sandwiches or dried fruits and nuts.

According to Eha Nurk, the senior analyst at the National Institute for Health Development (NIHD) who led the sudy, changes should begin with ensuring children the opportunity to eat breakfast at home and offering healthy choices at school both for lunch and at the cafeteria. In addition, it is important for children's school schedules to include at least one hour of physical activity per day.

A total of 12,700 first grade students from 381 schools across Estonia were measured and surveyed in spring 2016. The study was conducted within the framework of the World Health Organization (WHO) European Childhood Obesity Surveillance Initiative (COSI).

Editor: Aili Vahtla

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