The World Health Organization has urged Europe to reverse its obesity “epidemic”, which it estimates kills at least 1.2 million people annually.
The UN agency says nearly 60 percent of adults and nearly a third of children across the continent are overweight or obese. These rates are higher than in any other region of the world except for the Americas.
However, the World Health Organization says the trend can be reversed – and two of the hardest-hit European countries are already experimenting with promising solutions.
suppression of fatty foods
The World Health Organization has long urged countries to tax sugary drinks and fatty foods to fight obesity and type 2 diabetes, but governments have been slow to move forward with plans that may be unpopular with businesses or low-income families.
However, there are encouraging signs that change may be on the way, including in the UK, which ranks fourth among the worst countries in the WHO’s Europe report on the prevalence of overweight and obesity among adults.
In April, a mandatory calorie classification was introduced for restaurants, cafes and fast food in England with more than 250 employees.
From October, the government will ban multi-buy deals such as “buy one get one free” or “3 for 2” offers on foods and drinks high in fat, sugar and salt. Supermarkets will no longer be allowed to promote unhealthy food and drinks at key locations such as store entrances and departures.
A new watershed policy that restricts advertising of foods and drinks high in salt, fat and sugar before 9 p.m. will also be introduced on television by 2023.
These policy changes have been recommended by the World Health Organization, which is also urging governments to crack down on the proliferation of takeaway outlets in low-income neighborhoods.
One step at a time
A Briton who has already successfully changed her eating habits and lifestyle is 50-year-old Vicki Price, from London, an independent human rights lawyer.
Prais has lost 33 pounds (15 kg) since late 2019, when she was nearing the 30 body mass index that the World Health Organization uses to define people as obese.
Determined to feel more healthy and more comfortable with her looks, she joined the Slimming World weight-loss program and started walking 10,000 steps every day—following a Fitbit bracelet—and cooking healthy meals throughout the COVID-19 lockdowns.
“I know a lot of people put on weight during the pandemic. I’ve gone the other way and sort of lost weight,” Brice told Euronews.next, citing the fear of catching a serious case of COVID-19 — for which obesity is a risk factor — “was a little from the trigger.”
She said the result changed lives.
Price, who is around 5 feet 5 inches (1.65 m) tall, weighed 12 feet 9 pounds (80 kg) in December 2019. She now weighs 10 pounds 4 pounds (65 kg).
“From a health perspective, I feel a lot better, but I think mentally as well, it has given me more confidence,” she said, adding that it made it easier for her to engage with potential clients.
Of course, the temptations remain, and her advice to anyone looking to lose weight is to set small, achievable goals, and take them one day at a time.
“I was a big fan of fast food and probably ate as many takeaways as I wanted. I am now very careful when I buy ready-made meals and look at the saturated fat content before buying,” she said.
She called the UK’s calorie-ranking chart a “step in the right direction” and keeps photos of her overweight former self on her kitchen door to stay focused.
“I never want to go back to being a big Vicky again,” she said.
Healthy nutrition in schools
Unhealthy eating habits are picked up early in life, and public health agencies are encouraging governments to nip them in the bud.
A World Health Organization report found that nearly 30 per cent of children across Europe are overweight or obese, prompting the health authority to urge governments to combat the promotion of unhealthy food products to young people and reduce the “prevalence of inactive online games”. .
In Greece, more than 40 percent of children are overweight, and about one in five are obese – among the highest rates in Europe.
But for the past decade, one charity has been providing free, nutritionally sound meals in all of the country’s most deprived schools in an effort to combat food insecurity and obesity.
The programme, called DIATROFI (“nutrition” in Greek), was launched in the wake of the country’s sovereign debt crisis and recession, when teachers began watching pupils pass out because they came to school on an empty stomach.
To date, the initiative has provided more than 17 million free meals to nearly 120,000 students in 800 schools across the country, and has been cited by the World Health Organization as a model way of encouraging healthy eating choices early in life.
Hearty breakfasts, crafted with the help of nutritionists, are served by 9am and include a sandwich or other healthy baked goods, seasonal fresh fruit, and white milk or yogurt with honey.
Meals are provided free of charge to all students in participating schools, regardless of their socioeconomic background, to prevent stigmatization and bullying.
The program also provides educational materials, books, games and other activities to pupils, their parents and teachers on the topic of healthy nutrition.
The Prolepsis Institute, which runs the program, says it achieves on average each year a 40 percent reduction in childhood obesity rates, and a one-third reduction in overweight levels in the schools it serves.
In other words, nearly half of the kids who start the school year because of obesity no longer fall into this category come summer vacation.
They usually remain overweight, but about 8.5 percent of those who are obese are thin enough to reach a normal weight.
“It’s a huge impact,” Athena Linus, president of the Prolepsis Institute told Euronews Next.
“Despite what we know, a lot of kids, when they come back after the summer, may have gained weight,” she noted.
She said there is still room for improvement when it comes to controlling other foods that may enter Greek schools, such as sodas that are high in sugar, as well as limiting television advertising of unhealthy foods, especially during radio programs aimed at children.