Nordic countries work together to prevent obesity in children

The Nordic Keyhole


Trondheim 20171009.
Elever som spiser frukt på skole, SFO.
Foto: Gorm Kallestad / NTB scanpix

Nancy Baker

The prevalence of childhood obesity has been on the ultimate high all over the world, including in Nordic countries. To address this rising problem, the whole society has to work together in considering the environmental context during this critical pandemic.

In November 2019, a workshop was organized to address childhood obesity, which has been a priority both in the UN and EU. Based on the details about statistics on obesity, the topic was “Ending Childhood Obesity in the Nordic Countries,” with many representatives from Nordic countries present.

To continue this collaboration on childhood obesity and share experiences in an organized manner, the decision to start a Nordic network was made. Seeing as the Nordic Plan of Action on diet and physical exercise has been emphasized to work toward healthier lives since 2006 in the Nordic countries, it seems the problem is still prevalent.

Since the first progress report was drafted in 2009, some results have emerged from the initiatives launched, but it appears that there’s still a long way to go in solving this problem.

To prevent childhood obesity, residents in Nordic countries ought to increase their intake of vegetables and fruits and whole grains. They should also reduce their consumption of fat, trans fat, saturated fats, and added sugar. Depending on the national context, their salt intake is also supposed to fall or remain unchanged.

With the growing proportion of children and adults being physically inactive, Nordic countries should either stop doing this or preferably reverse their inactivity.

The first version of the Nordic Nutrition Recommendations (NNR) was published in 1980, with revisions done at intervals of eight years since. The publication constitutes the fundamental basis for work on nutrition and diet issues in Nordic countries.

The Nordic Keyhole was implemented to help make healthy choices easy. The aim has always been to make it easy for people to opt for healthier foods and push manufacturers to produce healthier food products and reformulate existing products.

The Keyhole was accepted within the population in Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. All three countries have been working together since 2007 to launch and also implement the Swedish-registered food label, with Norway and Denmark launching the Keyhole in 2009. Finland and Iceland have also implemented the Keyhole. So, how come we are still talking about the same issue?


Photo: Gorm Kallestad / NTB Scanpix
Children need to be encouraged to engage in more physical exercise, both indoors and outdoors.

Well, even with these strategic principles put in place within the food and health sector in Nordic countries, Nordic people need to implement these strategies to see all-around results.

With millions of children either overweight or obese, Nordic countries have had their environment, social factors, and genetic disposition probed with a focus on their family structures as well.

A BMI of over 25 in adults is defined as overweight, and obese when over 30. To calculate a child’s BMI, both gender and age are taken into consideration, because girls and boys develop differently.

Correlation between children’s eating habits and BMI

The way children relate to food and eat in Nordic countries is very crucial. BMI tends to increase more in children when food triggers their eating habits. This is because the way they eat and perceive food is controlled more by the smell and sight of food, and less by hunger.

Those who respond enthusiastically to food and still keep eating even when they are satisfied eat more which becomes an obesity-promoting appetite trait. This eventually leads to a steeper BMI curve, because these children start eating more than others.

Nordic countries should gauge whether appetite or overweight comes first in children. To fix the problem, it is crucial to understand whether a child’s eating habits can explain the differences in their BMI.

They should be able to explain whether how high their BMI is, is affected by their enthusiasm for food. Or whether the kids’ who consume more food eagerly need more energy because of a high BMI.

Sometimes it can go both ways. Either way, children who are triggered by food have higher BMI, while a higher BMI eventually leads to children being triggered more by food as they get older. As a result, some children can’t stop eating even when they’re full as they get older.

Obese children find it hard even to know when they are full. This is where the parents come in. Parents should help regulate their children’s food intake and help control their servings.

However, to stop the obesity pandemic in Nordic countries, the children, too, have to decide how they want to eat. That’s the only way to promote healthy eating behavior.

Children who tend to eat everything on their plate stop relying on their body signals. Hence, parents should stop pushing their children to clear food on their plates, because they will most likely do so to make their parents happy.

How to avoid obesity

Nordic children suffering from obesity are predisposed to cardiovascular ailments, type 2 diabetes, and other chronic illnesses.

Parents should watch what they’re feeding their babies and keep children active. The diet should be packed with lots of vegetables and whole-grain foods. They should also avoid rewarding their children with sweets.

Nordic countries should further emphasize the Keyhole, because it is their hub for a large number of initiatives developed to make it easy to make healthy choices, both when eating out and shopping.

Physical activity should also be emphasized in Nordic countries. A healthy life largely correlates with the diet and level of physical activity.


Nancy Baker, co-founder of Childmode (, writes about issues around pregnancy, childbirth, and children’s health and wellbeing.

This article originally appeared in the February 21, 2020, issue of The Norwegian American.

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The Norwegian American

The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.