New WHO report: Europe could reverse its obesity “epidemic”

Copenhagen, Denmark, May 3, 2022

The new WHO European Regional Obesity Report 2022, published on 3 May by the WHO Regional Office for Europe, reveals that rates of overweight and obesity have reached epidemic proportions throughout the Region and they are still increasing, with none of the 53 member states in the Region currently. aimed at achieving the WHO goal of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) to stop the rise in obesity by 2025.

New data on obesity and overweight

The report, presented at a press conference on May 3 and presented at the European Congress on Obesity, reveals that in the European Region, 59% of adults and almost 1 in 3 children (29% of children and 27% of children girls) are overweight. or living with obesity. The prevalence of adult obesity in the European region is higher than in any other WHO region except the Americas.

Overweight and obesity are among the leading causes of death and disability in the European region, with recent estimates suggesting that they cause more than 1.2 million deaths annually, accounting for more than 13% of total mortality. in the region.

Obesity increases the risk of many noncommunicable diseases, such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes mellitus, and chronic respiratory disease. For example, obesity is considered a cause of at least 13 different types of cancer and is likely to be directly responsible for at least 200,000 new cases of cancer each year across the Region, and this figure will increase further in the coming years. Overweight and obesity are also the main risk factors for disability, accounting for 7% of all years of disability in the Region.

Overweight and obese people have been disproportionately affected by the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic. There have been unfavorable changes in the patterns of food consumption and physical activity during the pandemic that will have effects on the health of the population in the coming years, and a major effort will be needed to reverse them.

Obesity in Europe: An ongoing “epidemic”

To address the growing epidemic, the report recommends a set of interventions and policy options that Member States can consider to prevent and address obesity in the region, with an emphasis on better rebuilding after the pandemic. the COVID-19.

“Obesity knows no borders. In Europe and Central Asia, no country will achieve the WHO’s global goal for NCDs to stop the rise in obesity,” said Dr. Hans Henri P. Kluge, WHO Regional Director for Europe. “The countries in our region are incredibly diverse, but they are all challenged to some degree. By creating more enabling environments, promoting investment and innovation in health, and developing strong and resilient health systems, we can change the trajectory of Obesity in the Region “.

Obesity is a disease, not just a risk factor

Obesity is a complex disease that poses a health risk. Its causes are much more complex than the mere combination of unhealthy eating and physical inactivity. This report presents the latest evidence, highlighting how vulnerability to unhealthy body weight in the first years of life can affect a person’s tendency to develop obesity.

The only environmental factors for living in Europe’s modernly highly digitalized societies are also drivers of obesity. The report explores, for example, how the digital marketing of unhealthy foods for children and the proliferation of sedentary online gambling are contributing to the rising tide of overweight and obesity in the European region. However, it also looks at how digital platforms can also provide opportunities for health and wellness promotion and discussion.

Political measures: what can countries do?

Addressing obesity is key to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and is a priority echoed in the WHO European Work Program 2020-2025.

The new WHO report describes how policy interventions targeting the environmental and trade determinants of poor diet for the entire population are likely to be more effective in reversing the obesity epidemic, tackling dietary inequalities and achieving environmentally sustainable food systems.

Obesity is complex, with multifaceted determinants and health consequences, which means that no single intervention can stop the rise of the growing epidemic.

Any national policy aimed at tackling the problems of overweight and obesity must have a high-level political commitment behind it. They should also be comprehensive, reach out to people throughout their lives and focus on inequalities. Efforts to prevent obesity should take into account the broader determinants of disease, and policy choices should move away from people-centered approaches and address the structural factors of obesity.

The WHO report highlights some specific policies that are promising to reduce levels of obesity and overweight:

  • the implementation of tax interventions (such as the taxation of sugary drinks or subsidies on healthy foods);
  • restrictions on the marketing of unhealthy foods to children;
  • improving access to obesity management services and overweight in primary health care, as part of universal health coverage;
  • efforts to improve diet and physical activity throughout life, including the care of preconception and pregnancy, the promotion of breastfeeding, school interventions and interventions to create environments that improve accessibility and affordability of healthy foods and opportunities for physical activity.

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