WHO report highlights the dangers of obesity

10 May 2022

Article: 56/1814

On 3 May 2022, the WHO European Regional Obesity Report 2022 was published, warning of the serious health risks associated with rising levels of obesity. Almost two thirds of adults and one-in-three in the WHO European Region are overweight or obese, and these levels continue to grow. Obesity is among the top determinants of death and disability in the region, the condition is a cause of 13 different types of cancer, and it needs to be treated and managed by multidisciplinary teams. 

The report predicts that, in the coming decades, obesity will overtake smoking as the main risk factor for preventable cancer, in some countries in the region. The report also highlights that obesity is a condition, not just a risk factor, that needs to be specifically treated and managed. Obesity prevalence for adults in the European Region is the second highest of all WHO regions, after the Region of the Americas. The latest data shows that overweight and obesity account for more than 1.3 million deaths globally each year, but even these numbers may be underestimated. 

In the European Region, 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 overweight and obesity are found in Mediterranean and eastern European countries. Educational inequalities are widespread, with higher obesity prevalence found in people with lower educational attainment. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has made the obesity problem even more pressing, with obese patients more likely to experience complications and death from the virus, and many of these patients have experienced disruptions in accessing obesity management services. Preliminary data also suggest that during the current pandemic, people have had higher exposure to obesity risk factors, including an increase in sedentary lifestyles and consumption of unhealthy foods. 

The WHO highlight the importance of prioritising some immediate policies, such as restricting the marketing of unhealthy foods to children, taxation of sugar-sweetened beverages and improving health system response for obesity management, then produce a feasible plan to introduce other interventions at a later stage. 

Source: WHO/Europe, 3 May 2022