Digital marketing of unhealthy food products to children and online gaming that compels children to a sedentary life are the main drivers of obesity, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has said.
According to the WHO European Regional Obesity Report 2022, rates of overweight and obesity 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 per cent of adults and a third of children are overweight or obese, the last two years of Covid-19 pandemic made that worse.
“Obesity knows no borders. In Europe and Central Asia, no single country is going to meet the WHO Global NCD target of halting the rise of obesity,” said Hans Henri P. Kluge, WHO Regional Director for Europe, while presenting the report at the European Congress on 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.”
Environmental factors unique to living in modern Europe’s highly digitalised societies are the major drivers of obesity.
Besides, the digital marketing of unhealthy food products to children, the report also blamed the easy access to unhealthy foods through meal delivery apps for the rising cases of obesity.
“Emerging evidence highlights the role of meal delivery apps in extending the physical food environment and providing convenient access to unhealthy food and beverage options with the swipe of a finger,” the report said.
It added that the proliferation of online gaming which promotes sedentary behaviour by reducing opportunities for physical activity is contributing to the rising tide of overweight and obesity in the European Region.
Increased body fat raises the risk of many diseases, including cancer, Type-2 diabetes, heart problems and lung conditions. It is also the main cause of disability, the report said.
It estimates obesity is leading to 1.2 million deaths every year in Europe, corresponding to more than 13 per cent of all deaths.
Addressing obesity is critical to achieving the sustainable development goals, the report added.
The new WHO report also outlined policy interventions such as the implementation of taxation on sugar-sweetened beverages or subsidies for healthy foods; restrictions on the marketing of unhealthy foods to children; improvement of access to obesity and overweight management services in primary healthcare, as part of universal health coverage.