No European country can currently claim to stop the progression of overweight and obesity which is raging on the Old Continent and described as” epidemic “ by the World Health Organization (WHO) in a new report, published on Tuesday 3 May. The magnitude of the problem was revealed with force during the Covid-19 pandemic where being overweight was a risk factor.
“Overweight and obesity rates have reached epidemic proportions across the region and continue to rise”, deplored in a press release the European branch of the organization which brings together 53 States. In Europe, almost a quarter of adults are now obese, making the prevalence of obesity higher than in any other region except the Americas, according to the WHO.
“Increased body mass index is a major risk factor for non-communicable diseases, including cancer and cardiovascular disease”, underlined the director of WHO Europe, Hans Kluge, quoted in the report. Overweight and obesity are thus the cause of more than 1.2 million deaths per year, representing more than 13% of deaths in the region, according to the study.
Obesity is the cause of at least thirteen different types of cancer and is likely to be directly responsible for at least 200,000 new cases of cancer per year, according to the WHO. “This figure is expected to increase further in the coming years”warned the organization.
The latest comprehensive data available, which dates back to 2016, shows that 59% of adults and nearly one in three children (29% of boys and 27% of girls) are overweight on the Old Continent. In 1975, barely 40% of European adults were overweight. The prevalence of obesity in adults has soared 138% since then, with a 21% increase between 2006 and 2016.
“Adverse changes in eating and sports habits”
According to the WHO, the Covid-19 pandemic has made it possible to measure the impact of the overweight epidemic in the region. The restrictions (closing of schools, confinement) have at the same time “resulted in increased exposure to certain risk factors that influence the likelihood of a person being obese or overweight”underlined Mr. Kluge.
The pandemic is causing harmful changes in eating and sports habits, the lasting effects of which must be reversed, argued the WHO. “Policy interventions that target the environmental and market determinants of unhealthy diets (…) are likely to be the most effective in reversing the epidemic”she said.
There is also a need to tax sugary drinks, subsidize healthy foods, limit the marketing of unhealthy foods to children, and support efforts to encourage lifelong physical activity, she said.