Food is a primary life requirement. Today, people in the Netherlands live much longer than previous generations. That is partly due to the availability of a sufficient quantity of good quality food. The Dutch now live in an era and a part of the world with an abundant food supply, and stringent control of food safety aspects. Furthermore, they now have access to greater scientific knowledge concerning healthy eating habits and food safety.
In 1997, the percentage of overweight persons in the 2 to 20 age group varied between 7% and 16%, depending on age. In the case of girls aged 6, this represented a 100% increase compared to the 1980 figures, while for boys aged 6, there had been a 200% increase (see figure 1). The trend is of particular concern because eating habits, like so many aspects of lifestyle, are acquired in these formative years.
Among those with only primary or lower vocational education, obesity is roughly three times more prevalent than among those with higher vocational training or a university degree. However, the increase over time is seen in both groups. Figure 1: Prevalence of overweight among Dutch children by gender and age. 0 3 6 9 12 15 6 year 12 year 18 year boys girls 6 year 12 year 18 year 1980 1997 prevalence.
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Food consumption of the average Dutch citizen has not increased in recent decades. In fact, between 1988 and 1998, energy intake fell by 5%. The cause of the increase of overweight is rather the over-consumption of food relative to the amount of physical activity undertaken. It is therefore clear that the degree of physical activity has decreased even further, although good statistics relating to trends in energy expenditure through physical activity are not available.
It is expected that the incidence of overweight and especially that of obesity, will continue to rise sharply in the Netherlands. Given the current trend, the number of Dutch persons who are obese is likely to increase by 50% before the year 2020. Merely maintaining the current level will require significant efforts.