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Estonians grow fat early in life

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PHOTO: Tervise arengu instituut

A study of Estonians' eating habits reveals that people eat much more sweets than is deemed healthy and should also cut meat consumption in half. Problems with weight start when children first go to school.

«The thing people overdo the most is sweets; however, we also eat twice as much meat as we should,» said research fellow at the Estonian Institute for Health Development Eha Nurk. Authors of the study were surprised people go overboard with sweets to such an extent. «A person does not consider they're eating sweets. They eat what they like, and the more you eat what you like, the more you will crave it,» Nurk explained.

Hidden Sugar

Sugar is added to enhance the flavor of various food products of which it was not an ingredient in the past. «I believe one big factor is availability. If 30 years ago cakes and tarts belonged in cafes and bakeries, today you have a cake stand in every village shop,» Nurk said. The study suggests that pastries and sweetmeats make up the lion's share of sweets people consume. «We are talking about pastry rolls that are available everywhere and make for a convenient snack,» Nurk said.

National recommended daily allowance prescribes up to 500 grams of red meat a week in a situation where people actually consume twice that. «Pure meat is not that big of a problem; rather the concern is over processed meats, like weenies and other types of sausages,» Nurk said. «Sausage is not meat; it has salt and added fats.»

More nuts and fish

The research fellow said that there are few sausages that have 18 grams of fat per 100 grams of product, and that often it is closer to 20-40 grams. «A barbeque sausage has to be high in fat in order to taste good; however, that is where all those wrong (saturated – ed.) fats come from,» Nurk explained.

Because processed meat products are also too salty, their consumption will cause excessive daily salt intake. «More nuts, almonds, olive oil, seeds; oily fish is the best source of Omega-3 fatty acids,» Nurk said, listing things people could eat to replace animal fats.

While people generally consume enough dairy products, Nurk rather recommends unflavored products. People do not eat enough grains and vegetables and should slightly increase their intake of fruit, potatoes, and eggs.

School is fattening

The study of Estonians' eating habits found that small children have the healthiest diet, while things are worst when it comes to teenagers. «Teenage boys consume four times the recommended quantity of sweets, going for 16-18 portions instead of the recommended four,» Nurk said.

The number of overweight children grows abruptly when kids go to school. «There is less exercise as most children are driven to school even if they live close by. If in kindergarten children play outside twice a day, that ends once they go to school; and children are drawn to computer screens after school,» Nurk explained.

Effect of pocket money

Nurk said that pocket money also plays a part in weight gain. «The child is now bigger and can decide what they want to buy.» She added that the reason children become overweight is simple – sweets consumption grows while exercise becomes rare. Obesity is dialed back courtesy of growth spurts once children hit puberty; however it returns in men between the ages of 18 and 24, whereas no fewer than 85 percent of men are overweight by the time they're 55-59 years old. «Things are slightly better when it comes to women who manage to keep their weight in check until they hit 25. However, after that, it starts to grow again with 75 percent of women becoming overweight by the time they are nearing retirement age.»

The study looked at 5,000 people between the ages of four months and 74 years.

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