Well above half of the European adults and one in three children are either overweight or obese, and this stat stands for all countries of the “old continent”. In some regions, these diseases prevailed in children and teenagers during the pandemic. However, the numbers are only growing so far, according to the new WHO European Regional Obesity Report 2022.

According to Dr. Hans Henri P. Kluge, the WHO Regional Director for Europe, no single country in Europe and Central Asia is about to meet the WHO Global NCD target of halting the rise of obesity by 2025.

-The countries are incredibly diverse, but everyone is facing challenges to some degree. By creating more enabling environments, promoting investment and innovation in health, and developing strong and resilient health systems, we can change the trajectory of obesity – states Kluge.

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In its report, WHO Europe flagged meal delivery apps as possibly contributing to the obesity problem, saying they may encourage sedentary behavior. The pandemic accelerated the use of these apps when the authorities advised people to stay at home.

The report recommends policies that ensure that restaurants are required to display nutrition information, do so on apps, and that, where applicable, meal delivery companies are classified as food businesses, to be held accountable in the same way.

Obesity and overweight are responsible for more than 1.2 million deaths across the region each year, the report finds.  

Obesity is behind at least 13 different types of cancer and is likely directly causing at least 200,000 new cancer cases every year in the region. In some countries, according to the WHO report, obesity is predicted to overtake smoking as the leading risk factor for preventable cancer in the decades ahead.

Policy measures: what can countries do?

The new WHO report outlines how 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.

Obesity is complex, with multifaceted determinants and health consequences, which means that no single intervention can halt the rise of the growing epidemic.

Any national policies aiming to address the issues of overweight and obesity must have a high-level political commitment behind them. They should also be comprehensive, reaching individuals across the life course and targeting inequalities. 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 levels of obesity and overweight, thus improving the public health and wellbeing of citizens:

  • 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.