Obesity rates have reached epidemic levels in Europe

Obesity rates have reached epidemic levels in Europe
© iStock/FredFroese

The new WHO European Regional Obesity Report 2022 reveals that overweight and obesity rates have reached epidemic proportions across the region.

It has been revealed that in the European region, 59% of adults and almost one in three children (29% of boys and 27% of girls) are overweight or living with obesity. Obesity rates for adults in the European Region are higher than in any other WHO region except for America.

Overweight and obesity are amongst 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.

The report was presented at the European Congress on Obesity in Maastricht, Netherlands.

Obesity rates in Europe

To address the growing obesity rates in Europe, the WHO report outlines a variety of interventions and policy options that Member States can consider preventing and tackling the condition, with an emphasis on recovering after the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Obesity knows no borders. In the Europe and Central Asia regions, no single country is going to meet the WHO Global NCD target of halting the rise of obesity,” said Dr Hans Henri P. Kluge, WHO Regional Director for Europe. “The countries in our region are incredibly diverse, but everyone is challenged to some degree. By creating environments that are more enabling, promoting investment and innovation in health, and developing strong and resilient health systems, we can change the trajectory of obesity in the region.”

Addressing obesity prevalence with policy measures

It is critical to reduce the obesity rates in the European region to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and is a priority echoed in WHO’s European Programme of Work 2020–2025.

The report defines policy interventions that target environmental and commercial determinants of poor diet at the entire population level are likely to be most effective at reversing the obesity epidemic, addressing dietary inequalities, and achieving environmentally sustainable food systems.

The report notes that any national policies aiming to address the issues of overweight and obesity rates must have a high-level political commitment behind them. They should also be comprehensive, reaching individuals across the life course and targeting inequalities. Furthermore, efforts to prevent obesity need to consider the wider determinants of the disease, and policy options should move away from approaches that focus on individuals and address the structural drivers of obesity.

The WHO report highlights a few specific policies that show promise in reducing overweight and obesity rates:

  • the implementation of fiscal interventions (such as taxation on sugar-sweetened beverages or subsidies for healthy foods);
  • restrictions on the marketing of unhealthy foods to children;
  • improvement of access to obesity and overweight management services in primary health care, as part of universal health coverage;
  • efforts to improve diet and physical activity across the life course, including preconception and pregnancy care, promotion of breastfeeding, school-based interventions, and interventions to create environments that improve the accessibility and affordability of healthy foods and opportunities for physical activity.



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