The latest report of the World Health Organization, published on Tuesday, warned of an “epidemic” of overweight and obesity in Europe, especially after the health crisis. Faced with a catastrophe affecting more than half of European adults, the League Against Obesity in France is calling on French and European public authorities to take measures more offensive to the factors causing obesity.
The old continent is a victim of a new infection. On Tuesday, May 3, the World Health Organization warned of an “epidemic” of overweight and obesity in Europe, with more than 1.2 million people dying from it each year.
A study conducted – its inventory relates to the situation in 53 countries – revealed that 59% of European adults are overweight or obese. The prevalence is now higher than in any other region except the Americas. For the youngest, this concerns one in three children.
Since 2016, all individual data have indicated further increases in Europe, particularly since the Covid-19 pandemic.
While there is no European consensus on the methodology for calculating the prevalence of obesity, screening methods are based primarily on body mass index (BMI – calculated from height and weight) and waist circumference. This is especially the case in France, among the worst students, because it has the highest average for the rise in obesity. A position in which Jean-Philippe Ursoli, Director-General of the League Against Obesity (LCO), a French NGO that brings together all the actors that help in the prevention and control of disease, would like to alert: “France is rather at the top of the ranking, where we have reached almost It is 50% of the population in terms of overweight and obesity.
It is getting worse, especially since the health crisis
The most recent collected figures on obesity in France date from 2020. The ObÉpi-Roche study, funded by the LCO, revealed that 30% of the adult population is overweight (body mass index equal to or greater than 25), and 17% are suffering from obesity. Obese (body mass index greater than 30). “Within the next two years, we will conduct studies to see the impact of the health crisis and confinement,” explains Jean-Philippe Orsolet.
For children, the numbers are worrying. The curve is increasing, the general manager of the association worries. “In 1965, there was 3% obesity among children aged 2 to 15; today, more than 15% are affected,” he says, referring to projections for 2020.
In the UK, official data from the National Child Measurement Program shows that one in seven first graders is obese after three closures. That number was 1 in 10 before the pandemic, the highest increase ever. among 6 . studentsAndThe prevalence of obesity increased from 21% in 2019-2020 to 25.5% in 2020-2021.
In France, there is no quantitative study since confinement, but the results are clear. Calls to the LCO hotline have literally exploded with Covid-19. We usually have between 500 and 600 calls annually. In 2020, the number of calls increased to 1,700 calls,” the association’s general manager defines.
The pandemic has made the obesity problem even more pressing, according to the World Health Organization in Europe in its press release. Preliminary data suggested that people were at greater risk of developing obesity, including increased sedentary lifestyles and consumption of unhealthy foods. “In the following studies, the curve is likely to evolve, showing a deterioration in the prevalence of obesity,” predicts the LCO general manager.
In addition, states the World Health Organization, patients who are obese are more likely to develop complications and death from the virus. “In France, 47% of the people who died from Covid-19 were obese,” adds Jean-Philippe Orsolet. “In the face of global health problems, and public health, obese people continue to represent an increased mortality rate.”
Women are more exposed
In 72% of cases, calls to the LCO hotline during childbirth concerned women, who are slightly overrepresented in obesity figures, particularly in France.
If eating disorder is one of the main causes of obesity, it is far from being the only cause. Lack of sleep and psychological problems too, not to mention the effect of endocrine disruptors (EP) on the body. Scientists are increasingly showing that the hormonal disruption caused by PE may explain why women are more affected by obesity.
“Women are exposed to a number of substances that upset the hormonal balance,” says Jean-Philippe Ursault, referring to a “mixture of disruptive endocrine disruptors.” Polyethylene is present in food, plastics and paints, but also in cosmetics, which are used more by women, and clothing (in dyes and cadmium, a weak radioactive element that allows clothes to be wrinkle-free). “Knowing that the skin absorbs 2% of air through the pores, imagine what it can absorb in terms of harmful products entering the bloodstream directly…”
Jean-Philippe Ursolier develops “The countries of Western Europe are also very large consumers of manufactured products.” He adds that the situation of women in these countries should also be studied, pointing in particular to sleep and stress problems. “We can also correlate these numbers with unemployment numbers, where women are more exposed, and are more unstable in terms of contracts.” There are several stress factors, which can also explain women’s overexposure to obesity risks.
But how can these risks be reduced? If factors of a structural nature cannot be the subject of legislation with immediate effect, then doctors, on the other hand, require public authorities to take direct action on certain products.
‘Insufficiently offensive action on products that are still being targeted’
“Obesity knows no borders. There is tremendous diversity among countries in our region, but they all face a certain degree of challenge. By creating more enabling environments, promoting health investment and innovation, and putting in place strong performing systems And flexible, we can change the trajectory of obesity in the region.”
In France, the food label “Nutri-Score”, which aims to promote a balanced diet, has attracted the attention of consumers since 2016 for the quality of the dishes they choose. This principle has also been adopted by many of our European neighbors, such as Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands. However, nutritionists mostly object to it because it only measures the nutritional value of the product in question. Jean-Philip Ursulet explains: “We calculate the nutritional value and put a letter for the isolated dish, but if you combine that dish with another product, it will necessarily change the value of the sum of nutritional points for what you have consumed.” According to doctors, it would therefore be better to indicate each product in terms of calories and nutritional value, but also to specify which foods should not be eaten with this processed dish.
“Likewise, anything with the letter C, D or E (indicating the presence of added sugars, and often different types of added sugars, editor’s note) should be banned,” pleads the general manager of the Association Against Obesity.
Going forward, the LCO required public authorities to overtax harmful products (and ban very harmful products) and, conversely, lower the value-added tax on health products that consumers should have easy access to.
Jean-Philippe Orsolet asserts: “If everyone turns to inexpensive products in advance, it is connected above all with the problem of instability.” “The legislator has a duty to do to redirect the consumption of the population.”
“We have learned over time that a one-size-fits-all policy will not work. To achieve success as a country or region, we need a comprehensive set of interventions,” Acting President Dr. Kremlin Wickramasinghe said in the statement, from the World Health Organization’s European Office for the Prevention and Control of Noncommunicable Diseases. , which issued the European regional report.
However, so far, no country has been able to implement all these policies at the same time. “It is important to prioritize two or three policies for implementation now and have a practical plan for delivering the rest of the interventions,” he continues. Recommendations include restricting the marketing of unhealthy foods to children, taxing sweetened beverages, and improving the health system’s response to obesity management.
In France, the Director-General of the Association Against Obesity considers that “the policy of public authorities is not offensive enough to products that have been well targeted.” The latter again refers to endocrine disorders, but also junk food that young people especially appreciate.
The “extensive marketing” of brands in relation to children is also in the eyes of the association. “Children are the target of this marketing, especially at the checkout counters where very tasty candies and chocolates are on display, with very attractive visual marketing that appears to be beneficial for very harmful products.”
The importance of sports
If the disparities (partly cultural) are pre-existing, the observation is the same in all European countries. In Finland, for example, interest in healthy eating is widely conveyed through TV cooking shows (such as Top Chef). However, Jean-Philippe Ursolier specifies, “The Finns don’t really address the problem by legislating on products, because these decisions have to be made at the European level.”
Therefore, do not look for harmful products and endocrine disruptors in Finland. On the other hand, the state has succeeded in setting a time for physical activity into the working time of employees, and Finnish employers spend an average of €200 per employee on physical activity (as opposed to tax exemption). The same dynamic is in Sweden, named as the sportiest country in Europe in 2018 by the European Commission as part of its fight against inactivity. In 2017, the Eurobarometer for sport and physical activity revealed that only 15% of Swedes had never been physically active, compared to 46% of French.
In France, this line of thought was presented by the LCO to the Senate in early April, says Jean-Philippe Ursulet. “Exercise allows for the proper functioning of the organs, but also to eliminate the causes of endocrine disorders.” Thus, exercising for one hour per day will make it possible to get very encouraging results, he said. This is the path we must follow. Parallel of course with the banning of some products.”