Obesity in children is an important health concern, accelerating throughout the world with particular alarming trends in Europe. A comprehensive and detailed assessment of the magnitude of this public health problem was imperative to stimulate adequate political response and the need was recognised for standardised European-wide harmonised surveillance systems on which policy development within the WHO European Region could be based.
As a follow-up to this recommendation, the Nutrition and Food Security Programme of WHO/Europe established the European Childhood Obesity Surveillance Initiative (COSI) in 2007, and Ireland was one of the 13 countries who have joined this initiative.
COSI / WHO Europe is an ongoing, systematic process of collection, analysis, interpretation and dissemination of descriptive information for monitoring excess body weight. The system aims to measure trends in overweight and obesity in children aged 6-10 year-old every three years, in order to have a correct understanding of the progress of the epidemic, to reverse the epidemic but also allowing inter-country comparisons within the WHO European Region.
The implementation of a simple, standardized, harmonized and sustainable surveillance system was important to fill the current gap in longitudinal information on nutritional status, tackle and monitor the obesity epidemic in children and identify groups at risk as well as the possibility of merging with other protocols to evaluate the impact of obesity preventive interventions in school settings. Therefore, a robust monitoring system that covers similar age groups with standardised methods of surveillance and research was needed.
In Ireland, the Department of Health and the Health Service Executive commissioned the National Nutrition Surveillance Centre, based at the School of Public Health, Physiotherapy and Sports Science in University College Dublin, to commence this surveillance work among primary school children in the Republic of Ireland.