Overweight and obesity have hit "epidemic proportions" in Europe, WHO warns
Almost two-thirds of adults in Europe are living with overweight or obesity.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned that overweight and obesity have reached "epidemic proportions" in Europe.
In a new report, the international health body says that almost two-thirds of adults and one in three children in the region are living with the conditions and that these rates are still growing.
Prevalence levels are higher among males at 63% than among females with 54%, while the rates tend to be higher in countries with higher incomes.
"The highest levels of overweight and obesity are found in Mediterranean and eastern European countries," the WHO said in a statement accompanying the report.
"Educational inequalities are widespread, with higher obesity prevalence found in people with lower educational attainment."
The international health body said the Covid pandemic has made the obesity problem "even more pressing".
This is as patients with obesity are more likely to experience complications and death from the virus, while many have also faced disruptions in accessing obesity management services.
Preliminary data also suggests that amid the pandemic, people have had higher exposure to obesity risk factors, including "an increase in sedentary lifestyles and consumption of unhealthy foods".
The WHO notes that overweight and obesity rank fourth as a risk factor for death, after high blood pressure, dietary risks and tobacco.
"It is associated with many non-communicable diseases (NCDs) including cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes and cancer," it said.
The international health body also stated that, for some countries in Europe, it is predicted in the coming decades that obesity will overtake smoking as the main risk factor for preventable cancer.
In order to combat the conditions, the WHO says it needs a "comprehensive package of interventions".
“Obesity is influenced by the environment, so it is important to look at this problem from the perspective of every stage of life," said Dr Kremlin Wickramasinghe, Acting Head of the WHO European Office for the Prevention and Control of NCDs.
"For example, the life of children and adolescents is impacted by digital environments, including marketing of unhealthy food and drinks.
“We have learned over time that a single policy will not work. To succeed as a country or region, we need a comprehensive package of interventions," he added.
"No single country has been able to introduce all these policies at the same time.
"It is important to prioritise two or three policies to implement now and have a feasible plan to introduce the rest of the interventions.
"Restricting the marketing of unhealthy foods to children, taxation of sugar-sweetened beverages and improving health system response for obesity management are currently among the most actively discussed policy areas in the WHO European Region.”