Published on 13 May 2022

A recently published World Health Organization report has highlighted that type 2 diabetes is among complications of being overweight.

“It is important to look at the problem of obesity from the perspective of every stage of life,” suggests a new report that has highlighted concern that not enough is being done to prevent rising rates of obesity in Europe.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recently published the European Regional Obesity Report that warned better environments needed to be created in order for people to have a healthier lifestyle.

The report found that almost two thirds of adults and one in three children in the WHO European region are overweight or obese, and these rates are still growing.

The report warned of the serious health risks associated with rising levels of obesity including the development of cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes and cancer.

Obesity is a cause of 13 different types of cancer, and it needs to be treated and managed by multidisciplinary healthcare teams.

Dr Hans Henri P. Kluge, WHO Regional Director for Europe, said: “Obesity knows no borders. In Europe and Central Asia, no single country is going to meet the WHO Global noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) target of halting the rise of obesity.

“The countries in our Region are incredibly diverse, but every one 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.”

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The report findings ranked being overweight and obesity fourth as a risk factor for death, after high blood pressure, dietary risks and tobacco.

For some countries in the European region, it is predicted that in the coming decades obesity will overtake smoking as the main risk factor for preventable cancer.

The report also highlights that obesity is a condition, not just a risk factor, that needs to be specifically treated and managed.

According to the report, obesity prevalence for adults in the European region is higher than in any other WHO region except the Americas. The latest study findings showed that being overweight and obesity account for more than 1.3 million deaths globally each year, however they added that even these numbers may be underestimated.

In the European region covered by the report, rates of being overweight and obesity have reached epidemic proportions, with prevalence levels higher among males (63%) than among females (54%). The rates tend to be higher in countries with higher incomes.

The highest levels of both being overweight and obesity are found in Mediterranean and eastern European countries. Educational inequalities are widespread, with higher obesity prevalence found in people with lower levels of education.

In addition, the Covid-19 pandemic experienced globally over the last two years has made the obesity problem even more pressing. Patients with obesity are more likely to experience complications and death from the virus, and many of these patients have experienced disruptions in accessing obesity management services.

Early studies also suggest that during the global pandemic, people have had higher exposure to obesity risk factors, including an increase in sedentary (inactive) lifestyles and consumption of unhealthy foods – that can in turn be a risk factor for developing type 2 diabetes.

Dr Kremlin Wickramasinghe, Acting Head of the WHO European Office for the Prevention and Control of NCDs, which produced the WHO European Regional Obesity Report 2022, said: “Obesity is influenced by the environment, so it is important to look at this problem from the perspective of every stage of life. 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. 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.”

Read the WHO European Regional Obesity Report 2022

Read the DRWF diabetes information leaflets A healthy diet and diabetes and Exercise and diabetes here

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