This is particularly evident in the older girls. The number of overweight children and young people has also continued to increase, according to study leader Rosemarie Felder-Puig (Gesundheit Österreich GmbH/GÖG) in front of journalists. For the study initiated by the WHO and carried out every four years, a total of 7,100 schoolchildren filled out an online questionnaire between November 2021 and July 2022 during a lesson. One or two classes from grades 5, 7, 9 or 11 (with the exception of special schools) took part in each school – the young people were therefore generally between 10 and 17 years old. Accordingly, there are also individual evaluations for each age group and for boys and girls. There is no international comparison data yet – the collected figures from all participating countries will only be published at the end of 2023 or 2024.
results to be expected
According to Felder-Puig, the worsening of the mental health indicators observed in previous studies was expected – even to an even greater extent. “But the result is still not reassuring.” Around 44 percent of girls and 25 percent of boys are often irritable or in a bad mood. 30 percent of the girls and 12 percent of the boys said they were often depressed.
In general, a trend runs through the study: While the boys have stable or slightly better values compared to the 2018 survey (with a few exceptions), the deterioration is clearly due to the girls. “The gap has grown significantly,” said Felder-Puig. This mainly affects the older girls. While there are hardly any gender differences among eleven-year-olds, the values start to diverge significantly when puberty begins.
Significant increase in obesity in children
As a second point in addition to mental health, Felder-Puig emphasized the significant increase in the number of overweight children. Based on their self-report, 17 percent of girls and 25 percent of boys are overweight or obese. In 2014 it was still eleven or 17 percent – the increase in numbers began before the pandemic and increased again during the Corona period.
At the same time, however, there have also been positive developments: fruit and vegetable consumption has increased among both sexes since 2018. “But if you add a bar of chocolate to that, it doesn’t help that much,” said Felder-Puig. At the same time, the consumption of sweets has increased significantly – especially among girls. The number of schoolchildren who are physically active for at least one hour several times a week has also increased.
Bullying in schools, which was heavily discussed a few years ago, has decreased significantly. For example, the proportion of schoolchildren who saw themselves as victims of bullying fell from just over 20 percent (boys) or just over ten percent (girls) to eight or seven percent between 2010 and 2018. Since then, the numbers have remained constant.
The Ministry of Health is aware of the problems in the areas of mental health and obesity. Jakob Weitzer from the Department for Health Promotion and Prevention emphasized that programs such as the wellness pool or “I can do it” on the health competence of children and young people have been running for a long time. An overview of all projects on psychosocial health will soon be launched – at the moment we don’t even know what offers are available and where there are still gaps. There is also a program to inform school buffet operators on how to make their offerings healthier. It is currently being examined to what extent this will also be implemented.