Experts: Europe faces obesity epidemic

Europe is facing an obesity epidemic by the end of the decade, which will increase health costs and hamper economic development, health experts said on Thursday.

Up to 23% of men and as many as 36% of women in Europe are obese, and one third of children are overweight.

“If we do not act now, we expect to have 150-million adults and 15-million obese children by 2010. That means between 2002 and 2010 we will have 20% more obese people compared to about 10 years ago,” Dr Francesco Branca, of the World Health Organisation (WHO), told a news conference.

“This really is the description of an epidemic,” he added.

Obesity is taking up to 1% of gross domestic product (GDP) in some countries in Europe, according to the WHO, which considers it one of the greatest public health challenges of the 21st century. It accounts for about 6% of health costs.

To tackle the soaring rates, health ministers and policymakers from 53 countries will meet in Istanbul this month to map out a strategy and adopt a charter on countering obesity.

Branca said although most countries in Europe acknowledge that obesity, which increases the risk of diabetes, heart disease, certain cancers and other complications, is a public health problem and are taking action, none has been able to deal with it effectively.

“The WHO is convening the ministerial conference to spread the message and spread good practice across the region,” he said.
“All countries should move together. Only with this integration of action will we achieve goals.”

High fat, energy dense diets and sedentary lifestyles over the last 20 to 30 years, along with economic growth, urbanisation and the globalisation of food markets have contributed to expanding waistlines around the globe.

The November 15 to 17 meeting in Turkey, which will include ministers of transport, environment, education and finance, will look at measures to improve the consumption of healthy foods, to increase exercise in schools and the work place and to involve health systems in dealing with the epidemic.

It will culminate in the adoption of a European Charter on Counteracting Obesity, which will propose action plans and includes calls for political commitment.

“This is the first region of the world that is tackling this one in a major way,” said Professor Philip James, the chairperson of the International Obesity Taskforce.—Reuters

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