Overweight and obesity 'epidemic' in Europe kills over a million people

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An "epidemic" of overweight and obesity, responsible for more than 1.2 million deaths a year, is raging in Europe, the World Health Organization (WHO) worries in a new report.

"Overweight and obesity rates have reached epidemic proportions throughout the region and continue to rise," the European branch of the 53-state organization lamented in a statement.

In Europe, almost a quarter of adults are now obese, making the prevalence of obesity higher than in any other region except the Americas, according to the WHO.

Currently, no country in the region can claim to stop the progression and magnitude of the problem that was strongly revealed during the Covid-19 pandemic, where being overweight was a risk factor.

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

13% of annual deaths in Europe

Overweight and obesity are thus the cause of more than 1.2 million deaths per year, which represents more than 13% of deaths in the region, according to the study.

Obesity is the cause of at least 13 different types of cancer and is likely to be directly responsible for at least 200,000 new cancer cases per year, according to the WHO.

"This figure is expected to increase further in the coming years," the organization warned.

The latest complete data available, dating from 2016, shows that 59% of adults and almost one in three children (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% increase between 2006 and 2016.

According to the WHO, the Covid-19 pandemic has made it possible to measure the impact of the overweight epidemic in the region.

Tax on sugary drinks

The restrictions (school closures, confinement) have "at the same time led to an increase in exposure to certain risk factors that influence the probability that a person will be obese or overweight," Kluge stresses.

The pandemic is causing harmful changes in eating and sports habits, the lasting effects of which must be reversed, the WHO argued.

"Policy interventions that address the environmental and market determinants of poor diets are likely to be most effective in reversing the epidemic," he said.

There is also a need to tax sugary drinks, subsidize healthy foods, limit the marketing of unhealthy foods to children, and support efforts to encourage physical activity throughout life.

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