Culture

Europe Facing Growing Obesity Crisis: WHO

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Europe is facing an obesity epidemic according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), which has projected a significant rise in the number of overweight and obese people in the majority of European countries by 2030.

Ireland is projected to fare the worst with almost all Irish adults set to be classed as overweight or obese - from 65.5% in 2010 to 87% by 2030.

The WHO defined overweight as those with a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 20 or over and obese as 25 or over - all those classed as obese were also overweight. Taking available data from the 53 countries in the WHO European region, the numbers show an expected increase in overweight adults in 41 countries, and an increase in obesity in 47 and 34 for males and females respectively.

Presented at the European Congress on Obesity in Prague, the figures show that even in countries which are traditionally considered as 'healthy', such as Sweden, obesity is set to rise sharply. With 14% of men and 12% of women classed obese in 2010, the WHO predict this will rise to 26% and 22% respectively in the Scandinavian country.

As well as the detrimental effects on health, obesity is causing a huge economic strain. In the UK for example, the WHO's projections show 74% of men and 64% of women will be overweight or obese by 2030.

A report released last November by consultancy McKinsey and Company showed the cost of obesity to the NHS in the UK could increase from between £6 billion to £8 billion in 2015 to between £10 billion and £12 billion by 2030.

"The economics are massive, it's already costing the NHS over £5 billion a year and this is going up steeply," says Professor Simon Capewell from the faculty of Public Health and Policy at the University of Liverpool.

"When you look at the national costs to the economy, of reduction of output, and pensions and so on, then it's two or three times as big. As you know obesity leads to type-2 diabetes, common cancer, stroke, heart disease, so the burden on the health service and wider economy is immense."

Professor Capewell adds that the old strategy of giving advice to people isn't working, emphasising that we need to make the environment in which we live healthier. "We need to cut out the advertising, the marketing that's targeting children and families and make sugary drinks more expensive with a duty on sugary drinks," he argues.

Shirley Cramer CBE, the chief executive of the Royal Society for Public Health, says the WHO figures are a "stark reminder of the pressing need for action", adding that it is an issue even food and drinks companies have a stake in.

"Making unilateral changes to messaging about healthy food, ensuring access to weight management and services, combined with further scrutiny on the cost of healthy versus unhealthy food are just a few ways to tackle this important issue," she says.

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