‘Epidemic’ of Obesity in Europe
Impact of obesity on health

Almost two-thirds of adults and a third of children are overweight or obese in the World Health Organization (WHO) European Region and this is driving cancer and other diseases, according to the WHO European Regional Obesity Report 2022 report released on Tuesday.

The highest prevalence is in Turkey, Malta, Israel and the UK (WHO Europe has different members from the European Union), but there is an upward trend in all 53 member countries.

Driving cancers

Obesity is the cause of 13 different types of cancer, as well as a risk factor in strokes, heart attacks, type 2 diabetes and other non-communicable diseases, according to the report.

For some countries in the region, obesity is predicted to overtake smoking as the main risk factor for preventable cancer. The report also highlights that obesity is a condition, not just a risk factor, that needs to be specifically treated and managed.

“In Europe and Central Asia, no single country is going to meet the WHO Global NCD target of halting the rise of obesity by 2025,” said Dr Hans Kluge, WHO Regional Director for Europe. 

Adult obesity in the 53-country European Region is higher than in any other WHO region except the the Americas. More males (63%) are overweight than among females (54%) while obesity is more prevalent among females (24%) than among males (22%).

Obesity rates in Europe (2016)     50%                                         60%                                       70%                                                          Orange = all adults, Blue = males, Green = females

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the danger of obesity, with patients with obesity being more likely to experience complications and death from the virus.

“Preliminary data also suggest that during the current pandemic, people have had higher exposure to obesity risk factors, including an increase in sedentary lifestyles and consumption of unhealthy foods,” according to the report.

Addressing unhealthy environments

“Obesity is influenced by the environment, so it is important to look at this problem from the perspective of every stage of life. For example, the life of children and adolescents is impacted by digital environments, including marketing of unhealthy food and drinks,” said Dr Kremlin Wickramasinghe, Acting Head of the WHO European Office for the Prevention and Control of NCDs, which produced the report.

“Restricting the marketing of unhealthy foods to children, taxation of sugar-sweetened beverages and improving health system response for obesity management are currently among the most actively discussed policy areas in the WHO European Region,” Wickramasinghe added.

Other policies that show promise in reducing levels of obesity and overweight include improving  access to obesity and overweight management services in primary health care, promoting breastfeeding and school-based interventions.

The report also highlights interventions at supermarkets and takeaway outlets, which are the primary food sources. These include removing unhealthy foods from checkouts and nearby aisles and restricting takeaway outlets.

Improving the quality of parks and playgrounds, as well as providing adequate infrastructure for active transport are other suggestions.

Image Credits: rawpixel/unsplash.

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