Many Iranian children are well above the normal weight for their age and height. From among every 10 children in different age groups, 3.5 are obese (have a BMI of over 30).

“It has been estimated that 80% of the future adult population in Iran will be overweight or obese (currently the rate is around 50%),” if the trend continues, said Dr Abdolreza Norouzi, a board member of Mashhad University of Medical Sciences in Khorasan Razavi Province, on the sidelines of a conference on Healthy Diet and Nutrition held last week at the university, the Persian language newspaper ‘Donya-e-Eqtesad’ reported.

“Besides genetic reasons, factors that influence excess weight include high-calorie diets, low nutrient foods and beverages, not getting enough physical activity, and sedentary activities such as watching television or sitting for long hours behind computers,” he said.

The latest Global Health Observatory (GHO) data by the World Health Organization in 2014 shows that 56% of Iranians were overweight (with a BMI over 25) and 17% were obese (with a BMI over 30). While the figures were 33%, 32%, 28%, 27.6%, 26%, 24%, 22%, 22%, 21%, 19%, 7%, and 2%  in US, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Australia, Norway, UK, France, Turkey, Germany, Russia, China, and India, respectively.

Globally, 39% of women and 38% of men aged 18 and over were overweight and 15% of women and 11% of men aged 18 and above were obese.

The figures indicate that though currently Iran is not among the top obese countries in the world, there is a long way to go in order to reach the ideal health standards.

Schools are Responsible

It is difficult for children and parents to make healthy food choices and get enough physical activity when they are living in an environment that does not support healthy habits, Norouzi said.

“Places such as child care centers, schools, or communities can affect diets and physical activity through the foods and drinks they offer in school buffets and the facilities they provide for recreation activities.

In the past especially, schools buffets offered unhealthy food choices and hungry students had no option.

As a part of the 2014 Health Reform Plan, a MoU was signed between the health and education ministries by which from January 2015 the sale of sausages and fizzy drinks in public schools was banned. Nearly 500 inspectors were appointed to regularly supervise school meals to ensure that they didn’t offer banned food to students.

Last month (on February 25), Mohammad Hadi Ayazi, social deputy at the Health Ministry said reports by the inspectors showed that 95% of schools were in compliance with the directive and were offering healthy food options. Those not complying had been warned.

Childhood obesity can have a harmful effect on the body in a variety of ways. Children who are obese are more likely to have high blood pressure and high cholesterol, which are risk factors for cardiovascular diseases (CVD) in adulthood.

They are also at increased risk of impaired glucose tolerance, insulin resistance, and type 2 diabetes, breathing problems, such as asthma and sleep apnea, joint problems and musculoskeletal discomfort, fatty liver disease, gallstones, and gastro-esophageal reflux.

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