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Children's digestive health across Europe in crisis

May 31, 2016

(Brussels, 31 May, 2016) A report investigating the current state of digestive health in children has revealed alarming trends in disease incidence and inequalities in the provision of digestive healthcare services for children across Europe.

'Paediatric Digestive Health Across Europe', commissioned by United European Gastroenterology (UEG), is published today and highlights how the current health burden and economic pressure of paediatric digestive health issues, in particular the increasing levels of childhood obesity, have become a pandemic issue throughout the continent.

The report canvasses the opinion of a number of paediatric GI specialists, including experts from UEG and current and past presidents of the European Society for Paediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition (ESPGHAN), who highlight three particular areas of digestive health that show worrying trends and require urgent action. These include:
  • In 46 European countries, one in every three children aged 6-9 years is now overweight or obese

  • Childhood onset of inflammatory bowel disease now accounts for 20-30% of all IBD cases

  • Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease has become the most common cause of chronic liver disease among children and adolescents in Western countries, with cases documented in children as young as 3 years old

Commenting on the current state of paediatric digestive health care in Europe, Professor Michael Manns, President of UEG, explains; "Across Europe we have leading paediatric experts and many centres of excellence. However, these are not widespread and currently cannot meet the needs of children throughout the continent. This has an impact on not just individuals and their families but on society and wider health service provision".

A call for change across Europe

One of the main findings in the report is that many areas of digestive health follow a 'one size fits all' approach with many children following adult care pathways. Professor Berthold Koletzko, President of ESPGHAN, comments; "It is important for stakeholders and policy makers to appreciate that children have complex physical, psychological and social needs and these must be met by trained paediatric specialists to improve the accessibility of optimal care for children today and in future generations".

The report calls for urgent attention and resource investment in paediatric digestive health treatments and services to improve the prognosis for children who suffer from varying digestive health conditions. A 6 point action plan, targeting key policy makers, stakeholders and health service providers, is outlined within the report to help encourage and deliver change and improve paediatric care across Europe. The 6 key actions are:
    1. Further development of national strategies and public health campaigns for education, prevention and early intervention

    2. Improve and harmonise training standards through the development of a pan-European digestive health syllabus

    3. Enhance paediatric subspecialty training to understand the complex physical, psychological and social needs of children

    4. Develop transition services as patients move from teenage to adult care

    5. Encourage further research into childhood digestive diseases and early life programming to enable improved prevention strategies
6. Further development of specialised centres for the optimal management of children with digestive diseases

The report will be issued to European policy makers today at the European Parliament, who will meet with leading health experts to discuss the latest research and areas for development examined in the review. The report is unveiled as part of UEG's Digestive Health Month to raise awareness of digestive health issues across the continent.

"In spite of 20% of the European population being children and the incidence of gastrointestinal diseases increasing, it is extremely worrying that only 1 out of 58 topics currently receiving EU research funding is focused on paediatric health" explains Professor Koletzko. "Priorities need to change quickly to appreciate the specific issues of paediatric digestive provision and ensure greater investment into prevention, cost-effective diagnostic measures and harmonised training".

Professor Manns adds; "UEG hope this report will encourage policy makers, stakeholders and health service providers to adopt the recommendations and prioritise the development of specific paediatric focused strategies for improving the digestive health of children today and for future generations".
Notes to Editors

About UEG

UEG, or United European Gastroenterology, is a professional non-profit organisation combining all the leading European societies concerned with digestive diseases. Together, its member societies represent over 22,000 specialists, working across medicine, surgery, paediatrics, gastrointestinal oncology and endoscopy. This makes UEG the most comprehensive organisation of its kind in the world, and a unique platform for collaboration and the exchange of knowledge. Find out more by visiting

To advance standards of gastroenterological care and knowledge across Europe and the world, UEG offers numerous activities and initiatives, including:
  • UEG Week, the biggest congress of its kind in Europe, and one of the two largest in the world.

  • UEG Education, the universal source of knowledge in gastroenterology, providing online and classroom courses, a huge online library and delivering the latest GI news, fostering debate and discussion

  • Training Support, funding for innovative training and educational programmes, as well as international scientific and professional co-operations

  • UEG Journal, published bi-monthly, covering translational and clinical studies from all areas of gastroenterology

  • EU Affairs, promoting research, prevention, early diagnosis and treatment of digestive diseases, and helping develop an effective health policy for Europe

About the Report

Commissioned by UEG, Paediatric Digestive Health Across Europe, is a report that highlights the current levels of quality in paediatric digestive health throughout Europe, the current state of service provision and the potential impact on longer-term health outcomes and economies. The opinions of leading gastroenterologists and patient organisations have been utilised to help identify priority areas for improvement both now and in the future.

Other key trends raised in the report include:
  • It is predicted that the global number of children under five who are overweight will rise from the current 41 million to 70 million by 2025

  • The high cost of treating obesity and related disorders now represents up to 10% of total healthcare costs and threatens the sustainability of public healthcare systems across Europe

  • Delays in diagnosis of inflammatory bowel disease are taking up to 5 years for 18% of under 18's

  • Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease prevalence continues to rise among paediatric patients, affecting up to 10% of Europe's paediatric population

UEG Digestive Health Month

The first UEG Digestive Health month, organised by United European Gastroenterology (UEG), has taken place throughout May. Held to raise awareness of digestive health conditions in Europe and highlight opportunities to help advance the treatment and prevention of related diseases, activity has featured on social media via the hashtag #DigestiveHealthMonth

Contact Information

For further information about the report and UEG's activities, or to speak to a paediatric digestive health expert please contact Luke Paskins at UEG on +44 (0)1444 811099 or email



2. United European Gastroenterology Journal: (1) Farthing M, Roberts S, Samuel D, Williams D, et al, Survey of digestive health across Europe: Final report. Part 1: The burden of gastrointestinal diseases and the organisation and delivery of gastroenterology services across Europe, 2014 2: 539-543

3. Day CP. Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease: a massive problem. Clin Med. 2011; 11:176-178

4. 1000 Days:

5. Early Nutrition Project:

6. B. Wilson, S. Lönnfors, S. Vermeire. The true impact of IBD: a European Crohn's and Ulcerative Colitis patient life. IMPACT Survey 2010-2011


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