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

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The new World Health Organization (WHO) European Regional Obesity Report 2022 reveals that overweight and obesity rates have reached epidemic proportions across Europe and are still escalating. None of the 53 Member States of the Region are currently on track to meet the WHO Global Noncommunicable Disease (NCD) target of halting the rise of obesity by 2025.

The report reveals that in the European Region, 59% of adults and almost 1 in 3 children (29% of boys and 27% of girls) are overweight or living with obesity. Obesity prevalence for adults in the European Region is higher than in any other WHO region except for the Americas.

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

Obesity increases the risk for many NCDs, including cancers, cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes mellitus and chronic respiratory diseases. 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 cancer cases annually across the Region, with this figure set to rise further in the coming years. Overweight and obesity are also the leading risk factor for disability, causing 7% of total years lived with disability in the Region.

Overweight people and those living with obesity have been disproportionately affected by the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. There have been unfavourable shifts in food consumption and physical activity patterns during the pandemic that will have effects on population health in the years ahead, and will need significant effort to reverse.

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

Environmental factors unique to living in modern Europe’s highly digitalised societies are also drivers of obesity. The report explores, for example, how the digital marketing of unhealthy food products to children, and the proliferation of sedentary online gaming, contribute to the rising tide of overweight and obesity in the European Region. However, it also looks at how digital platforms might also provide opportunities for the promotion and discussion of health and well-being.

Image © World Obesity