Childhood obesity has become a major public health concern: in 2014, 18 to 50% of European children (6-9 years) were overweight or obese. Many actions are conducted, particularly in schools, in order to contrast this situation. Nutritional education is useful for knowledge acquisition but much less for behavioural change; however, it can be effective when coupled with complementary interventions. The various actions are rarely assessed and not entirely convincing. How can we explain such low efficiency? Easily influenced, children are permanently in a bundle of contradictions: nutrition education, pressure from other people, and especially from the parents, they are reached by many different and aggressive marketing messages. Seldom, parents, teachers and health care personnel are not good examples for children with regards to their own eating habits. Under these conditions, it is difficult to achieve satisfactory results.
This scientific Newsletter explores some actions to promote «healthy eating» in the European context, especially in relation to children. Blake & Patterson show that UK paediatric nurses are aware of the role they could play in promoting a healthy diet. However, their own harmful behaviour can negatively influence their patients.
Oostindjer et al. explain that, in Norway, a consensus exists on the importance of nutrition education at family level, but it is also the responsibility of the industry and public authorities to improve the offer of goods. Lloyd-Williams et al. believe that the majority of 30 European countries are engaged in activities intended to increase consumption of healthy food. Assessing the nutrition policies they found that people considered mandatory reformulation of industrial products more effective than voluntary commitment of the industries, and regulations and fiscal interventions (taxes, subsidies) much more effective than nutrition information strategies.
These studies provide evidence that the food environment plays an important role in shaping children’s diets. It is recommended to develop interventions to educate people who interact with children about the consequences that their own behaviour can have on children’s diet. Furthermore, the fundamental role of supply and marketing should not be neglected. If short-term effects of such measures may appear weak, these will eventually make the consumption standards evolve and therefore will amplify their effect on the long term.