Digital marketing of unhealthy food products for children and online games that force children into sedentary lives are major drivers of obesity, the World Health Organization (WHO) has said.
According to the WHO European Regional Obesity Report 2022, overweight and obesity rates have reached “epidemic proportions”, with only the Americas having a higher level of obese adults than Europe.
The global health body added that while nearly 60% of adults and a third of children are overweight or obese, the past two years of the Covid-19 pandemic have made the situation worse.
“Obesity knows no borders. In Europe and Central Asia, no country will meet the WHO global NCD target of halting the rise in obesity,” said Hans Henri P. Kluge, WHO Regional Director for Europe, during the presentation of the report at the European Congress on Obesity.
“Countries in our Region are incredibly diverse, but each faces challenges to some degree. By creating more enabling environments, promoting health investment and innovation, and developing strong and resilient health, we can change the trajectory of obesity in the region.”
Environmental factors specific to life in the highly digitized societies of modern Europe are the main drivers of obesity.
Apart from digital marketing of unhealthy food products to children, the report also blamed easy access to unhealthy foods through meal delivery apps for the rise in obesity cases.
“New evidence highlights the role of meal delivery apps in extending the physical food environment and providing convenient access to unhealthy food and drink options with the swipe of a finger “, says the report.
He added that the proliferation of online games that encourage sedentary behavior by reducing opportunities for physical activity contributes to the rise of overweight and obesity in the European Region.
Increased body fat increases the risk of many diseases, including cancer, type 2 diabetes, heart problems, and lung conditions. It is also the leading cause of disability, according to the report.
He estimates that obesity causes 1.2 million deaths every year in Europe, which is more than 13% of all deaths.
Tackling obesity is key to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, the report adds.
The new WHO report also outlined policy interventions such as implementing sugar-sweetened drink taxation or healthy food subsidies; restrictions on the marketing of unhealthy foods to children; improvement of access to services for the management of obesity and overweight in primary health care, within the framework of universal health coverage.
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