1 in 3 children are overweight in the European region: WHO report

A new World Health Organization (WHO) report on obesity levels in Europe published on Wednesday shows that about one in three children of primary school age are living with obesity or are overweight, and this will only rise further.

The WHO 2022 European Regional Obesity Report was presented by the spouses of 16 European leaders and Heads of State, in the Croatian capital.

Childhood obesity data for the WHO European Region paint an alarming picture.

“Our children are growing up more and more in environments that make it difficult for them to eat well and stay active. This is one of the main causes of the obesity epidemic,” said Dr. Hans Henri P. Kluge, WHO Regional Director for Europe.

“As societies and countries, we have so far failed to reverse the rising rates of childhood obesity, and that is why the WHO/Europe is here in Croatia, at the invitation of Professor Milanović, spouse of the President, to galvanize political support for this real insidious public health crisis before it becomes even more difficult to address.”

Based on current trends and looking exclusively at obesity in the WHO European Region, which covers 53 countries in Europe and Central Asia, the World Obesity Atlas 2023 published by the World Obesity Federation projects that between 2020 and 2035 there will be:

  • a 61% increase in the number of children living with obesity,
  • a 75% increase in the number of girls living with obesity,
  • with a total of 17 million boys and 11 million girls between the ages of 5 and 19 living with obesity in the region in 2035.
  • Problems related to overweight and obesity in all Age groups are projected to cost the WHO European Region $800 billion annually, by 2035.

The WHO European Region has identified three specific actions to counter current projections and help prevent this silent epidemic from getting worse:

Prevention is better than cure: Efforts to reduce childhood obesity must start early, beginning in pregnancy and early childhood. Prevention should focus on good nutrition at all stages of the child’s life. Prevention efforts are also needed in homes, schools, and the community at large.

Regulate the Food and Beverage Industry: The most effective policies to address childhood obesity include imposing a tax on sugary drinks, requiring clear front-of-pack labeling, and restricting the marketing of unhealthy foods to children.

Promotion of physical activity: This includes better urban design and transport policies, physical activity in the school curriculum and extracurricular activities, and clear messages to support active lifestyles throughout life.

Overweight and obesity are among the leading causes of death and disability in the European region, and recent estimates suggest that they cause more than 1.2 million deaths per year, corresponding to more than 13% of total mortality.

Obesity increases the risk of many noncommunicable diseases (NCDs), including cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and chronic respiratory diseases.

Obesity is also 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 throughout the Region, with this number expected to rise further in the coming years. .

Additionally, people who are overweight and those living with obesity have been disproportionately affected by the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, often experiencing more severe illness and other complications.

“Because obesity is so complex, influenced by different factors such as genetics, environment, and socioeconomic status, no single intervention can stop its rise,” explained Dr. Kluge.

“Any national policy that aims to address the problems of overweight and obesity must have high-level political commitment behind it. They must also be comprehensive, reaching people throughout the life course and focusing on inequalities.”

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