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Bristol researchers reveal findings of a major international study into the diets and lifestyles of European children

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Press release issued: 9 February 2017

European governments must act to help families improve their children’s health and tackle the obesity epidemic. That’s the advice of I.Family researchers who today [9 Feb] revealed the findings of a major international study into the diets and lifestyles of European children.

The I.Family Study – a five-year international scientific study involving academics at 17 institutions including the University of Bristol in 12 different countries – examined the health, diets, physical fitness, local environments and peer and family influences of more than 16,000 children in eight European countries (Belgium, Cyprus, Estonia, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Spain and Sweden).

At the Study’s final conference in Brussels, I.Family researchers revealed their key findings to policy-makers, healthcare and children’s health professionals, and health NGOs from all over Europe, aiming to inform policy and practice at local, national and European level. The main topics included dietary patterns, the importance of sleep, food choices, the role of friends, local environments, family influence, metabolic health, genetic factors and community interventions.

Professors Angie Page and Ashley Cooper from the University of Bristol presented their findings which measured physical activity in over 5,000 families from 8 European regions.

Professor Angie Page from the University’s School for Policy Studies, said: “The I.Family study shows that we need to address inequality in access to physical activity if we want to reduce health inequalities in young people in Europe. Physical activity provides fundamental health benefits for young people. As well as physical fitness, these include healthy development of bones, muscles and joints, a healthy cardiovascular system (heart and lungs), and good coordination and movement control. It also builds self-confidence, social interaction and integration. Our data clearly shows that physical activity seems to run in families - i.e. children are more likely to be active if they live in households where their parents and siblings are more active."

Professor Wolfgang Ahrens from the Leibniz Institute for Prevention Research and Epidemiology, I.Family Study Coordinator, said: “I.Family has shown that many issues need to be addressed to improve children’s health but that families and individuals simply can’t do it alone. Government intervention is vital if we are to stem the tide of obesity across Europe and beyond.”

The I.Family study provides the strongest evidence to date that large numbers of young people across Europe have less chance of achieving these health benefits because of their age, gender, where they live or the household they live in. Leading researchers from across Europe and from each of the disciplines and topics covered by the I.Family Study spoke throughout the day.

The event was opened by Daciana Octavia Sârbu MEP vice-chair of the European Parliament’s Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI) – with guest speakers and chairs including Artur Furtado, Deputy Head of Unit at the Health Determinants & Inequality Unit, DG Sante, European Commission, and Dr Charmaine Gauci, Superintendent of Public Health at the Ministry for Health in Malta. Dr Gauci is also Coordinator of the Maltese Presidency thematic lead on childhood obesity – one of two key health priorities chosen by the Maltese Presidency of the Council of the EU.

The key findings of the I.Family Study cohorts include:

  • Rates of overweight/obesity vary widely between European regions – from around 40 per cent of children aged between two and ten in southern Italy to less than ten per cent in Belgium.
  • Socio-economic status had a major effect on rates of overweight and obesity across Europe
  • As children grew up over the course of the study, we looked at how many children became overweight or obese. Over a six year period, almost twice as many children from medium or low socio-economic status (SES) became overweight/obese, compared with higher SES families
  • Girls are more likely to be overweight/obese compared with boys.
  • Less than a third of children meet physical activity guidelines of 60 minutes exercise per day.
  • Children exposed to commercial TV are more likely to consume sweetened drinks, regardless of their parents’ norms or the daily duration of TV-viewing.
  • Watching TV during meals, having a TV in the children’s bedroom and watching TV for more than 1 hour per day are all associated with being overweight/obese.
  • Family members are similar to each other in their weight status and body composition, risk factors for disease and what they eat. Children tend to be more like their mothers than fathers.
  • The body weights of children and teenagers are related to those of their peers. Teenagers are particularly likely to eat more unhealthy foods if their friends do and are more likely to be active if their friends are.

For further details about the Study’s findings and to see our full conference programme please visit the I.Family website at

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