The World Health Organization (WHO) is calling on governments to do more to halt the rise of obesity after a new report found that nearly 60% of Europe's adult population is overweight or obese.

The report revealed that obesity prevalence for adults is higher in the European Region than in any other except for the Americas, and none of the 53 Member States of the Region are on track to meeting the WHO’s target of halting the rise of obesity by 2025.

With estimates suggesting that overweight and obesity cause more than 1.2 million deaths annually, the WHO is now calling for a variety of intervention measures to prevent the obesity epidemic from worsening.

Dr Hans Henri P. Kluge, WHO Regional Director for Europe said: “Obesity knows no borders. In the Europe and Central Asia, no single country is going to meet the WHO Global NCD target of halting the rise of 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.”

What can governments do to halt the rise of obesity?

The report notes that obesity is “complex” with “multifaceted determinants and health consequences”, meaning no single intervention will end the epidemic on its own.

National policies therefore must be comprehensive and target individuals across the life course. In particular, they should address the structural drivers of obesity and take into account environmental and commercial determinants of poor diet, such as health inequalities.

The WHO therefore suggest the following interventions:

  • Fiscal interventions such as taxation on sugar-sweetened beverages or subsidies for healthy foods;
  • Improving access to obesity management services in primary healthcare;
  • Improving diet and physical activity across the life course, including preconception and pregnancy care, and school- and work-based interventions.

Tackling obesity in older adults

The report highlights that older adults are extremely vulnerable to becoming physically inactive and malnourished while living with obesity, yet nearly two thirds of adults do not meet the current recommendations on physical activity.

Older adults are also at an increased risk of nutritional deficiencies because of impaired appetite and repetitive dietary choices, with evidence suggesting food intake can decline by as much as 25% in adults over 70 years old.

Improving diet quality and physical activity levels are therefore the most effective way to improve health outcomes in this population, and the report suggests governments offer lifestyle interventions at retirement age as people begin to restructure their daily routines.

It suggests that intervention strategies are individualised and include gradual weight reduction, regular and appropriate physical activity, adequate protein intake and sufficient fluid intake to ensure hydration.

The report notes that those with a low socioeconomic status are at increased risk of poor health outcomes later in life and this group may therefore need extra support, such as help in accessing supermarkets or meal providers, offering protein-enriched beverages, or providing nutritional supplements.