A heavy problem for some migrant communities: overweight

Especially children from Turkish and Arabian families often are too heavy.

How come that there are more overweight children in North-Rhine Westphalia than in Bavaria even though the Bavarians like to eat pretty hearty? One reason is that there are more immigrants around Rhine and Ruhr than in Bavaria. Physical exams among first graders have also shown in Berlin in 2007 that more than 20 percent of first graders from Turkish or Arabian families were overweight and almost 10 percent even obese (adipose). That were almost twice as many as among the German children. The Berlin Senate report on children's health from march of 2011 additionally indicates: the worse the German language skills are the heavier the youths. Also the KIGGS* study shows that the frequency of adiposity in foreign children e.g. in 7 to 10 year olds is approximately twice as high with 11 percent than in German kids, in 14 to 17 year olds this distance shrank: 9.4 percent of immigrants and 8.3 percent of the Germans are very overweight. 

On the ocassion of the International Migrants Day the IFB takes a look at the problem. Naturally migrants in Germany are not a homogeneous groupand not all of them have weight issues; but there are clear trends fo turkish and arabian migrants. The search for causes for the overweight in those groups proves to be very difficult. The Turkish cuisine offers many vegetable dishes, the family often prepare them on their own and also eat together. Normally those are ideal circumstances to eat healthy and in moderate quantities. But the amount of food becomes to high and to rich in calories because of snacks in between. Sweets and special treats are served during visits from the big circle of friends and family since anything else would be inpolite. Eating big amounts together is part of hospitality and family life.

In some cultures sport is a lower priority; foreigners rarely join a sports club. Especially with girls and women from Muslim families it is a lack of exercise that promotes growing fat pads. In strictly religious families it is frowned upon when girls show themselves in tight sports attire in the presence of men. Just as in the rest of the population, physical exercise loses significance in favor of seated activities in everyday life. While ten years ago, the average person would walk eight kilometers a day it is only 0.8 nowadays.

The Arabian cuisine with its many greasy and meat-based dishes appears less healthy. In traditional Arabian mentality corpulence also signifies wealth, which is why portly people are considered to be more attractive. Jana Hösel is a nutritionist with the IFB Outpatient Clinic and also cares for foreign patients. She emphasizes that "a good understanding of the cultural features and the differences in nutrition is important in order to be able a diet plan that is created accordingly and can be adhered to in everyday life."

Similarily to adults, it can also be seen in youths that overweight occurs more often in groups with a lower level of education. The National Consumption Study (2005-7)** showed that around 36 percent of students in schools that have them graduate after nine years are overweight and almost 30 percent are obese (BMI higher than 30 kg/m²). In students that graduated with a college access degree those values were 21 and 9.7 percent. Some physicians therefore blame socio economic and ethnic cultural causes for overweight in certain migrant communities. At any rate education seems to be key in preventing overweight. In terms of integration German and foreign children could already learn about healthy food apart from the language in kindergarten. The study plans of schools, however, still lack a subject such as nutrition or health care until today.

*The Robert Koch Institute carried out one of the most comprehensive German studies concerning the health of children and youths in 2003-2007, called KIGGS (Kids and Youths Health Survey). 17,641 boys and girls participated in the survey.
**The Max Rubner Institute, Federal Research Institute for Nutrition and Food (MRI) carried out the National Consumption Study (II) on behalf of the Federal Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Consumer Protection. Nationwide 20,000 youths and adults were questioned about their eating habits and body dimensions from 2005-2007.

Keywords: children & youths, society & social life