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Tackling Childhood Obesity in Europe with the Help of Nuclear Techniques: IAEA Symposium at European Congress on Obesity

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Childhood obesity is on the rise in Europe and a stable isotope technique can help policymakers gather data to better tackle this challenge, the IAEA's Victor Owino told delegates at the European Congress on Obesity on 25 May 2018. (Photo: P. Kaestel/IAEA)

Childhood obesity is on the rise worldwide and is quickly becoming one of the most serious public health challenges of the 21st century, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). An IAEA project presented at the 2018 European Congress on Obesity (ECO 2018) last month is helping nutrition and health professionals in 10 countries in Europe to assess body composition using stable isotope techniques. The data gathered will allow policymakers to design interventions to prevent and control childhood obesity.

The symposium titled “Assessing body composition for better understanding of risks related to childhood obesity and designing effective interventions”, organized by the IAEA, was held as a parallel session during ECO 2018 on 25 May 2018. Case studies from Bosnia and Herzegovina and Latvia were presented on how the deuterium oxide dilution technique, is used to accurately measure body fat as a risk factor for obesity among school-age children in the respective countries. Information generated from this project will contribute to formulation of policies and interventions to reduce obesity in Europe. The two countries are already involved in the WHO led Childhood Obesity Surveillance Initiative (COSI).

Growing burden of childhood obesity

Every third eleven-year-old child in Europe and Central Asia is overweight or obese, according to the WHO. Changing dietary habits, sedentary lifestyle and lack of physical activity are the leading causes of rising obesity rates. Without interventions, overweight and obese children will likely stay overweight or obese into adulthood and will be at increased risk of developing noncommunicable illnesses, such as diabetes and cardiovascular diseases, at a younger age.

“Closely linked to regional WHO strategies on childhood obesity and on prevention of non-communicable diseases, the project will provide much-needed evidence base to formulate policies and design effective interventions,” said Inese Siksna, a nutritionist at Latvia’s Institute of Food Safety, Animal Health and Environment.

IAEA symposium at European Congress on Obesity

During the symposium, IAEA experts discussed how body composition can be used as a tool to accurately monitor obesity, and representatives of the WHO and other partners discussed the importance of using accurate data, obtained with the help of stable isotope techniques, in policymaking.

Aida Filipović Hadžiomeragić, from the Public Health Institute of Bosnia and Herzegovina, noted the importance of the collaboration in sharing expertise and knowledge. “Previously held workshops and trainings have greatly assisted representatives from Bosnia and Herzegovina, such as doctors, nurses and technicians to gain the necessary skills and expertise to assess body composition using the deuterium dilution technique by Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscopy (FTIR) and bioelectrical impedance, and to use accelerometery to measure physical activity levels and sedentary behaviour among children,” she said.

The IAEA has supplied FTIR equipment to authorities in Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Greece and Montenegro to help with analysis of deuterium enrichment in saliva samples from all ten participating countries. The project is implemented through the IAEA technical cooperation programme.

The deuterium dilution technique may also be used as a reference method to validate existing approaches to screen and monitor obesity in Latvia, Ms Siksna said.

The symposium was organized in collaboration with the World Health Organization-European Regional Office (WHO-Europe), European Association for the Study of Obesity (EASO) and N8 AgriFood, a multi-disciplinary research programme across eight universities in the North of England.

The countries participating in the project are Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Greece, Hungary, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro, Latvia, Portugal and Ukraine. The IAEA, through its technical cooperation programme, is assisting countries in the overall coordination of the project, in providing equipment, expertise and training.

Childhood obesity will be also addressed during the upcoming International Symposium on Understanding the Double Burden of Malnutrition for Effective Interventions, to take place 10-13 December 2018 in Vienna.

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