The World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned of what it termed “alarming rise” of obesity in Europe, saying one in three European adolescents is overweight.
The WHO Regional Director for Europe, Dr Zsuzsanna Jakab, stated this at the European Congress on Obesity in Portugal, citing eating habits, physical inactivity and sedentary behaviours as causes.
Jakab said “despite sustained efforts to tackle childhood obesity, one in three adolescents in Europe is estimated to be overweight, with the highest rates found in southern European and Mediterranean countries.”
She particularly expressed concern over the rise in eastern European countries, where obesity rates had historically been lower.
The WHO director called for ambitious policy action to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) target to halt the increase in childhood obesity.
She noted that “governments must target efforts and break this harmful cycle from childhood into adolescence and beyond.
“The latest WHO study on ‘Adolescent obesity and related behaviours: trends and inequalities in the WHO European Region, 2002 to 2014′ pointed to evidence suggesting that one in three boys and one in five girls aged six to nine is obesed.
“Childhood obesity is considered one of the most serious public health challenges of the 21st century.”
The study indicated that globally, around one in 10 young people aged five to 17
is overweight or obese – with rapidly increasing levels in recent years.
According to the study, the primary cause of overweight and obesity can be traced to energy-related behaviours – physical activity, sedentary behaviour, eating behaviour and sleep – which contribute to an energy imbalance between calorie intake and energy expenditure.
While trends have previously been reported on separately, the study compiled the Health Behaviour in School-aged Children (HBSC) data on obesity and obesity-related behaviours, reviewing the latest evidence and studying the range and complexity of influences on childhood obesity.
The health consequences of excess body weight are well documented.
The study notes that obesity increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, hypertension, sleep disorder and cardiovascular disease.
It also diminishes adolescents’ quality of life and is related to various emotional and behavioural problems.
Additionally, the chronic nature of obesity can limit social mobility and perpetuates an intergenerational cycle of poverty and ill health.
Many inequalities in obesity and related behaviours exist, with young people from lower socioeconomic groups generally reporting worse outcomes, the report indicates.
The study also noted that longitudinal studies had found that obesity early in life related to less educational attainment and lower incomes in adulthood, even after differences in childhood Socio Economic Position (SEP) were controlled.
Furthermore, low SEP in childhood increases the risk for becoming obese in adulthood over and above the impact of adult SEP on obesity.
“Most young people will not outgrow the condition: about four in every five adolescents who become obese will continue to have weight problems as adults,” the study underscored.
The HBSC survey is a WHO collaborative cross-national study that monitors the health behaviours, health outcomes and social environments of boys and girls aged 11, 13 and 15 years every four years.