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Prevalence of obesity among Portuguese children (6–8 years old) using three definition criteria: COSI Portugal, 2008


Address for correspondence: Professor A Rito, National Institute of Health – Dr Ricardo Jorge I.P, Av. Padre Cruz, 1649-016 Lisboa, Portugal. E-mail:


What is already known about this subject?

  • Obesity is at epidemic levels and presents a serious global public health challenge.
  • Portugal is one of the European countries with the highest prevalence of childhood obesity.
  • Childhood Obesity Surveillance Initiative (COSI) is a robust monitoring system covering similar age groups, using standardized methods that allows comparability with other WHO European Region Member States.

What this study adds?

  • In Portugal, one in every three of 6- to 8-year-old children are overweight.
  • Compared with other COSI national surveys, a similar trend was observed in other southern European countries, particularly Italy.
  • The reference method used to define overweight and obesity is important as it provides different estimates.


Previous studies place Portugal among the five countries with the highest prevalence of childhood obesity in Europe. This paper describes the prevalence of thinness, overweight and obesity in Portuguese children of 6–8 years of age, based on the first data collection from Childhood Obesity Surveillance Initiative Portugal, which took place during the 2007/2008 school year.


This study uses a semi-longitudinal design with repeated cross-sectional national representative samples. Specific prevalence of overweight (including obesity) and obesity was determined using three different diagnostic criteria. Across the seven geographic regions, 3765 children were enrolled from 181 schools; 50.3% of participants were males.


Using the International Obesity Task Force reference, the prevalence of thinness, overweight and obesity were 4.8%, 28.1% and 8.9%, respectively; using the Center for Disease Control and Prevention reference they were 2.1%, 32.2% and 14.6%, respectively; and according to the World Health Organization reference, they were 1.0%, 37.9% and 15.3%, respectively. Univariate analysis showed a higher risk of obesity in older children, in boys and in the Azores region. The islands of Madeira and the Azores were the regions with the highest prevalence of overweight at 39.4% and 46.6%, respectively, and Algarve was the one with the lowest (21.4%).


These findings demonstrate the need for urgent action in Portugal and provide policy-makers with comprehensive and detailed information to assist with this.