A recently released study shows how badly Swiss children are eating. Only 10% of those between 11 and 15 eat fruit and vegetables several times a day. And while fruit and vegetables are not popular, the survey carried out by Swiss Addiction, shows that sweet foods are. Close to one third of children and adolescents eat sweets at least once a day, and over a quarter consume sugary drinks daily.
The situation was worse in 2002. Back then only 5.4% of this age group ate fruit and vegetables several times a day. The Swiss nutrition society recommends two portions of fruit and three portion of vegetables a day.
Poor diet is known to significantly increase the risk of becoming overweight or obese. According to Promotion Santé Suisse, an organisation focused on promoting good health in Switzerland, 17.3% of children in 2015 were overweight and 4.4% were obese. Swiss Addiction found that 25% of their sample of children had a weight abnormal for their age and one in ten was overweight. An obese child of 10 to 14 years old has an 80% chance of staying that way as an adult, and risks developing related diseases. Mindsets might be changing however. Children with bad eating habits were more likely to describe their health as fair or poor.
According the the Swiss federal office of public health, one person in Switzerland eats 5.4 kg of fruit, 6.2 kg of vegetables, 4.1 kg of bread and cereals, and 3.3 kg of meat and fish per month, amounts that have barely changed in recent years.
The number of people of “normal weight” across the Swiss population has dropped from 65% to 55% in the space of 20 years (1992 – 2012). Over this period the number of obese people has climbed 90%. In 2012 41% of the population were over weight or obese. Promotion Santé Suisse says that 13% of kids at nursery, 22% of primary school pupils and 25% of secondary school children are included in this group.
What can be done?
Swiss Addiction uncovered some tips in their research. School children who start their days with breakfast have better eating habits than those who skip this meal. In addition, those who eat with their parents appear to have healthier diets. The Swiss nutrition society recommends parents make eating pleasurable and educational. Get children involved in food preparation. “Pass on your eating habits by eating as a family as often as possible”, advice which assumes that parents eat healthily. The survey showed that only 11% of the population followed the Swiss nutrition society’s advice.
Some initiatives have been launched, in particular at the cantonal level. In Neuchatel a plan is being discussed to create laws related to sugary products, possibly a tax on sugar added during the manufacture of certain foods and drinks. The money would be used to prevent diabetes and obesity.
Response in other countries
In the recent British budget the chancellor announced a sugar tax would be launched in 2018. The plan would tax drinks with more than 5 grams of sugar per 100 ml at one rate and tax those with 8 grams or more at a higher rate. According to the Guardian, the chancellor told members of the British Parliament that “Five-year-old children are consuming their body weight in sugar every year. Experts predict that within a generation over half of all boys and 70% of girls could be overweight or obese. Obesity drives disease.”
Other countries such as Finland, France and Mexico have announced or implemented similar plans.
The Credit Suisse Research Institute’s 2013 study “Sugar: Consumption at a crossroads” estimated that nearly 400 million people worldwide were affected by type II diabetes and 20% were obese. 90% of the family doctors surveyed said they believed the sharp rise in diabetes and obesity was linked to excess sugar consumption. The associated global healthcare costs of excess sugar consumption were estimated at US$ 470 billion annually, or more than 10% of global healthcare spending.