WHO concerned about ‘epidemic’ of overweight and obesity in Europe

An “epidemic” of overweight and obesity, which causes more than 1.2 million deaths a year, is punishing Europe, the World Health Organization (WHO) warned on Tuesday in a new report.

“The rate of overweight and obesity have reached epidemic levels throughout the region and continue to progress,” the European section of the Organization, which brings together 53 states, lamented in a statement.

In Europe, about a quarter of adults are obese, figures only surpassed by the Americas region, according to the WHO.

No country in the region can stop the progress and magnitude of the problem, which increased during the covid-19 pandemic, during which a sedentary lifestyle and an unhealthy diet were favored.

In addition, obesity is an additional risk factor in covid-19 and other serious diseases.

“Increased body mass index is a major risk factor for noncommunicable diseases such as cancer and cardiovascular disease,” WHO Europe director Hans Kluge was quoted as saying in the report.

Obesity would be the cause of 1.2 million deaths per year, that is, 13% of deaths in the region, according to this study.

Specifically, being overweight causes at least 13 types of cancer and would be the origin of 200,000 new cases of cancer per year, according to the WHO.

And “this figure will increase in the years to come,” the organization predicted.

The latest complete data available, dating back to 2016, shows that 59% of adults and almost one child in three (29% of boys and 27% of girls) are overweight in the Old Continent.

In 1975, just 40% of European adults were overweight.

The prevalence of obesity in adults has skyrocketed 138% since then, with a 21% progression between 2006 and 2016.

According to the WHO, the covid-19 pandemic made it possible to become aware of the impact of the overweight epidemic in the region.

In parallel, the restrictions (school closures, confinement) “entailed an increase in exposure to certain risk factors that influence the probability that a person will suffer from obesity or overweight,” Kluge stressed.

The pandemic is at the origin of some disastrous changes in eating and sports habits whose lasting effects should be reversed, defended the WHO.

“Policy interventions that target the environmental and commercial determinants of poor nutrition […] are likely to be the most effective in turning the epidemic around,” the organization said.

According to the WHO, it is also appropriate to tax sugary drinks, subsidize healthy foods, limit the sale of harmful foods to children and support efforts to encourage physical activity throughout life.

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