Europe can reverse its obesity "epidemic": WHO report

Europe can reverse its obesity "epidemic": WHO report

New data on obesity and overweight

The report, released at a press conference on May 3 and presented at the European Obesity Congress, reveals that 59% of adults and almost one in three children (29% of boys and 27% of girls) in Europe are overweight. or live with obesity. The prevalence of adult obesity in Europe is higher than in any other region of the WHO except the Americas.

Overweight and obesity are the leading causes of death and injury in Europe, with recent estimates suggesting more than 1.2 million deaths each year, representing more than 13% of the region’s total mortality.

Obesity increases the risk of developing many non-diseases, including cancer, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and chronic respiratory disease. For example, obesity is thought to cause at least 13 different cancers and is likely to be a direct cause of at least 200,000 new cancers each year across the region, and this figure is expected to rise further in the coming years. Overweight and obesity are also a leading risk factor for disability, accounting for 7% of all years of living with a disability in the area.

The consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic have disproportionately affected overweight and obese people. There have been adverse changes in food consumption and exercise patterns during the pandemic, with implications for the health of the population in the coming years and requiring significant efforts.

Obesity in Europe: a continuing “epidemic”

In order to combat the growing epidemic, the report recommends a number of actions and policy options that Member States may consider to prevent and control obesity in the region, with an emphasis on recovery after the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Obesity knows no borders. In Europe and Central Asia, no country is going to meet the WHO’s global NCD target to halt the growth of obesity,” said Dr. Hans Henri P. Kluge, WHO Regional Director for Europe. “The countries in our region are incredibly diverse, but each is somewhat challenging. By creating more enabling environments, promoting investment and innovation in health, and developing strong and sustainable health systems, we can transform the obesity trend in the region.”

Obesity is a disease – not just a risk factor

Obesity is a complex disease that is a health hazard. Its causes are much more complex than the mere combination of unhealthy diet and physical activity. This report presents the latest evidence showing how vulnerability to unhealthy body weight at an early age can affect a person’s predisposition to obesity.

The unique environmental factors of modern Europe’s highly digitalized societies are also the cause of obesity. For example, the report looks at how digital marketing of unhealthy foods to children and sitting online games are contributing to the rise of overweight and obesity in Europe. However, it also looks at how digital platforms could also provide opportunities to promote and debate health and well-being.

Policy measures: what can countries do?

Addressing obesity is crucial to achieving the SDGs and is one of the WHO’s priorities. European Work Program 2020-2025.

A new WHO report outlines how policies addressing the environmental and commercial determinants of malnutrition across the population are likely to be most effective in reversing the obesity epidemic, reducing dietary inequalities and achieving environmentally sustainable food systems.

Obesity is a complex issue with complex factors and health implications, which means that no single measure can stop the rise of a growing epidemic.

All national policies to address overweight and obesity must be based on a high level of political commitment. They must also be comprehensive, reach individuals throughout their lives and address inequality. Obesity prevention interventions need to take into account the wider underlying factors of the disease, and policy options should move away from approaches that focus on individuals and address the structural causes of obesity.

The WHO report highlights a few specific policies that are promising in reducing obesity and overweight:

  • implementation of tax measures (such as taxation of sugary drinks or support for healthy food);
  • restrictions on the marketing of unhealthy foods to children;
  • improving access to obesity and overweight management services in primary care as part of general health care;
  • efforts to improve diet and physical activity throughout the life cycle, including prevention and treatment of pregnancy, promotion of breastfeeding, school-specific interventions and interventions to create environments that improve access to and affordability of healthy foods and opportunities for physical activity.

Read the full WHO report here.

Source: World Health Organization (WHO)

Source: The Nordic Page

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