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The course is set early: the Journal of Health Monitoring publishes new data on health behaviour of children and adolescents

Press Release by Robert Koch Institute

In childhood and adolescence, the course is set for health behaviour in later life. ‘Given the fact that socioeconomic differences between health behaviour exist early in life, measures targeting socioeconomically disadvantaged children and adolescents and their living conditions are particularly important’ underlines Lothar H. Wieler, President of the Robert Koch Institute, on the publication of new data from the German Health Interview and Examination Survey for Children and Adolescents (KiGGS).

The results from KiGGS Wave 2 demonstrate, for example, that children and adolescents with a low socioeconomic status participate in sports less frequently, eat a less healthy diet and are more often overweight or obese than young people of the same age with a higher socioeconomic status. The data are published in a focus article in issue 2/2018 of the Journal of Health Monitoring, the online journal of the Robert Koch Institute on public health topics. In KiGGS, the socioeconomic status was measured through an index based on the information parents provided on educational background, occupational status and income situation (equivalised disposable income).

Introducing children and adolescents to a health-conscious lifestyle is an essential aspect of public health. Parents can influence their children’s dietary habits through factors such as shopping behaviour and by eating meals together. They can also influence their children’s natural urge for movement by providing encouragement (or not doing so). Nevertheless, the amount of time that children and adolescents spend outdoors also largely depends on their living conditions, the availability of green spaces, sports facilities and the level of traffic in their local area. In addition, living conditions also play an important role in nutrition: the probability of an unhealthy diet particularly increases in areas dominated by restaurants that offer fast food.

Educational approaches and individual measures such as training or courses aimed at changing individual behaviour have proven less effective in the past. Moreover, such measures hardly reach socially disadvantaged groups. Instead, better results are achieved when behavioural prevention strategies are supported by a settings-based approach, in other words, preventive measures that focus on people’s actual living conditions and social structures. Settings-based approaches aim to change people’s lives so that it becomes easier for them to make healthy choices. As Lothar H. Wieler stresses, ‘The combination of behavioural prevention strategies and settings-based approaches is particularly promising in evidence-based disease prevention.’

Leaving aside the complex factors that influence health behaviour and the role played by living conditions (material resources, education, environmental factors, etc.) may result in a one-sided approach that merely blames the victims – the population groups most affected by health risks.

The new issue of the Journal of Health Monitoring not only contains focus articles on child health, but also Fact sheets on subjective health and passive smoke exposure among adults using data of the German Health Update (GEDA 2014/2015-EHIS).

Further information is available at www.rki.de/journalhealthmonitoring-en

Date: 27.06.2018