A recent scientific symposium held by the INMA Project called attention to alarming data on childhood obesity, which has become the most serious health problem in Spain among children. Childhood obesity rates in Catalonia are double those of England and France. A new research project called Urban Environment and Childhood Obesity in Catalonia (ECHOCAT) will study the links between city life and excess weight among children. The ECHOCAT project has been made possible by a grant of €300,000 from Fundació La Marató de TV3 (the TV3 Telethon Foundation). The award was announced at an academic event held on November 3 at the Academy of Medical Sciences and Health of Catalonia and the Balearic Islands.
ECHOCAT was one of the 34 projects selected by the Fundació La Marató de TV3 from the 117 applications for grants to fund research projects on diabetes and obesity. The primary objective of the study will be “to examine whether factors related to the urban environment (air pollution, green space, social context, built environment, unhealthy food environment) influence child obesity in Catalonia”.
“Understanding the determinants of childhood obesity has never been more urgent, given the rapid escalation of the problem worldwide. Interventions focussing on changing the individual’s eating habits and physical activity levels have had limited success,” explains the project leader Martine Vrijheid, an ISGlobal researcher. “There are important gaps in our understanding of the implications of many urban exposures and there is currently no data in Catalonia on which to base impact assessments.”
ECHOCAT will analyse the existing data on 1.6 million children available in the primary care system (representing 80% of all children living in Catalonia), as well as data that has already been collected on a cohort of mothers and children. New data will be collected from a group of schoolchildren aged between 10 and 12 years living in the city of Sabadell. In the Sabadell cohort, the researchers will combine anthropometric measurements with the results of questionnaires to obtain combined data on obesity and risk factors. They will also use geographic information systems to estimate exposure to the various urban environment indicators and will analyse each child’s diet, physical activity and psychological well-being individually.