EEN EPODE - Preventing childhood obesity
To appreciate the size of the obesity problem in Europe you only need to look at the figures. Europe is currently facing a childhood obesity epidemic. A quarter of European school children are overweight or obese. This figure is expected to rise by well over a million children a year with more than 300,000 of them becoming obese.
An obese child faces a lifetime of increased risk of various diseases including diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer. Obesity can also be linked to underachievement in school, low self-esteem and psychological distress. It is important to remember that these children will become tomorrow's adults and if levels of obesity are not reduced will become a social and economic burden to society through rising costs of heath care and loss of working days.
Professor Jean–Michel Borys of the EEN EPODE project which is funded by the EU Health Programmes says, "It is important to start treating children now before the epidemic gets out of hand. Beginning at community level is the key to the fight against childhood obesity and paramount to the success of the European EPODE (“Ensemble Prévenons l’Obésité Des Enfants”) Network."
The project has highlighted a clear need to bridge the gap between awareness of the problem and practical implementation of necessary lifestyle changes. Over the past 10 years, several studies have provided evidence that the prevention of obesity in children is possible through local interventions aimed at modifying eating habits and increasing physical activity.
Obesity tends to be more prevalent in families from lower social economic groups with poor education levels. This is why educating parents about, healthy eating and the benefits of a more active lifestyle is the first step. Secondly, involving schools, pre-schools, local sports and parents associations, catering structures, health professionals, elected representatives, and local public and private stakeholders has made this project work. From town planners creating greener, more open spaces to live and exercise to local shops selling healthier food choices.
The first EPODE pilot project met with great success in two cities in Northern France in 1996 where obesity levels were successfully reduced by 50%. The concept relied heavily on getting everybody in the community to join in the fight against obesity.
Based on the success of the pilot experience, the European EPODE Network has been designed to implement community-based projects. This has been sucessful in 226 towns and cities in France, 98 cities in Spain, 14 in Greece and 7 in Belgium. Recently the Netherlands and Romania joined the project with the implementation of national programmes named JOGG, and SETS.
The Epode project has shown that early interventions are effective in reversing the trends in obesity levels. By giving families the know how to make healthier lifestyle choices and by facilitating these choices through the involvement of the local community the European Epode Network (EEN) project is now leading these families on the path to a healthier more active low fat lifestyle and in doing so preventing the spread of the threat of obesity.