Obesity ‘epidemic’: ‘Government policies are not aggressive enough’

The latest WHO report, released on Tuesday, warned of an “epidemic” of overweight and obesity in Europe, especially in the wake of the health crisis. Faced with a scourge that afflicts more than half of European adults, the French coalition against obesity is calling on French and European public authorities to take more aggressive action against factors that contribute to obesity.

Old Continent victims of new infectious diseases. The World Health Organization warned Tuesday, May 3, of an “epidemic” of overweight and obesity in Europe that kills more than 1.2 million people each year.

A study conducted, whose list covered 53 countries, showed that 59% of European adults are overweight or obese. The prevalence is now higher than any other region outside the Americas. For the youngest children, this involves a third of children.

Since 2016, Individual figures point to further growth in Europeespecially since the Covid-19 pandemic.

While there is no consensus in Europe on how obesity prevalence is calculated, screening methods are primarily based on body mass index (BMI – calculated from height and weight) and waist circumference. Among the worst students, this is especially the case in France, which remains high on average for rising obesity rates.The case of Director-General Jean-Philippe Ursulet Anti-Obesity Coalition (LCO)A French NGO, which brings together all the actors helping to prevent and fight the disease, wants to warn: “France is at the top of the rankings because we cover almost 50% of the population who are overweight and obese”.

worsening, especially since the health crisis

The latest obesity data collected in France dates back to 2020. The ObÉpi-Roche study, funded by the LCO, showed that 30% of adults are overweight (BMI equal to or greater than 25) and 17% are obese (BMI greater than 30). “We will be conducting research over the next two years to understand the impact of the health crisis and confinement”, explains Jean-Philippe Ursulet.

For children, the numbers are staggering. The association’s director general worries that the curve will only increase. “In 1965, the obesity rate for children aged 2 to 15 was 3 percent; today, more than 15 percent are concerned,” he said, referring to forecasts for 2020.

In the UK, official figures come from National Child Measurement Program showed that one in seven first-grade children were obese after three deliveries. Before the pandemic, that number was one in 10, the highest increase ever. out of 6 studentsandthe prevalence of obesity increased from 21% in 2019-2020 to 25.5% in 2020-2021.

In France, there have been no quantitative studies since childbirth, but there are clear findings. Calls to the LCO hotline have really exploded due to Covid-19. “Typically, we receive 500 to 600 calls a year. By 2020, we had grown to 1,700 calls,” noted the general manager of the association.

In its press release, WHO Europe noted that the pandemic has made the issue of obesity even more urgent. Preliminary data suggest that people are at higher risk for obesity risk factors, including a sedentary lifestyle and increased consumption of unhealthy foods. “In subsequent studies, the curve may evolve to show a worsening prevalence of obesity,” predicts the LCO Director-General.

In addition, the World Health Organization recalled that obese patients were more likely to develop complications and die from the virus. In France, “47% of those who died from Covid-19 were obese,” adds Jean-Philippe Ursulet. “Faced with global health problems, public health problems, the mortality rate of obese people is still too high.”

Women are more exposed

In 72% of cases, calls to the LCO hotline during childbirth involved women, who were slightly more represented in the obesity data, especially in France.

If malnutrition is one of the main causes of obesity, it is far from the only one.Sleep deprivation and psychological problems too, not to mention Effects of endocrine disruptors (EDs) on the bodyA growing number of scientists are proving that hormonal imbalances caused by PE may explain why women are more susceptible to obesity.

“Women are exposed to many substances that disrupt hormonal balance,” says Jean-Philippe Usulet, referring to “a cocktail of disruptive endocrine disruptors.” PE is found in food, plastics and paints, but also in cosmetics, used more by women, and clothes (in dyes and cadmium, a weakly radioactive element that makes clothes wrinkle-resistant). “Knowing that the skin absorbs 2% of the air through the pores, imagine what harmful substances it can absorb directly into the bloodstream…”

“The countries of Western Europe are also big consumers of processed products,” explains Jean-Philippe Ursulet. But he added that the situation of women in these countries also needs to be studied, especially stress and sleep problems. “We can also link the data with data on unemployment, women being more vulnerable, and contractual instability.” With so many stress vectors, it could also explain women’s overexposure to obesity risk.

But how to reduce these risks? If structural factors cannot be the subject of immediate legislation, doctors, on the other hand, are asking public authorities to act directly on certain products.

“Not aggressive enough to target product”

“Obesity knows no borders. In Europe and Central Asia, no country is on track to meet the goal of curbing the rise in obesity, one of WHO’s global targets for non-communicable diseases (NCDs),” Dr. Hans Henri P. Kluge in The report affirms that the WHO Regional Director for Europe. “The countries in our region are vastly different, but they all face a degree of difficulty. By creating a more supportive environment, promoting health investment and innovation, and building well-functioning and resilient systems, we can change Trajectories of obesity in the region. »

In France, the “Nutri-score” nutrition label, which aims to promote a balanced diet, has since 2016 brought consumers’ attention to the quality of the dishes they choose. Several of our European neighbours such as Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands have also adopted this principle. However, nutritionists have mostly disputed it because it only measures the nutritional value of related products. “We calculate the nutritional value and add letters to individual dishes, but if you combine this dish with another product, this necessarily changes the total nutritional score of the food you’re eating,” explains Jean-Philip Ursulet. According to doctors, it is therefore best to label each product with its caloric and nutritional value, as well as identify foods that should not be eaten with this processed dish.

“Similarly, anything with the letters C, D or E (indicating the presence of added sugars, usually different types, editor’s note) should be banned,” pleaded the director general of the Coalition Against Obesity.

Going a step further, the LCO requires public authorities to tax harmful products too much (and ban very harmful ones) and, conversely, lower VAT on healthy products that should be more readily available to consumers.

Jean-Philippe Ursulet emphasizes: “If everyone takes refuge in products that are a priori cheap, it is related in the first place to the problem of instability”. “It is the responsibility of the legislators to redirect the consumption of the people. »

“Over time, we have learned that a one-size-fits-all policy does not work. As a For a country or region to succeed, we need a comprehensive package of interventions. The report produced the European Regional Report.

However, to date, no country has been able to implement all of these policies simultaneously. “It’s important to prioritize 2 or 3 policies now and have a workable plan to introduce the rest of the interventions,” he continued. Recommendations include limiting the sale of unhealthy foods to children, taxing sugar-sweetened beverages, and improving the health system’s response to obesity management.

The director general of the Anti-Obesity Coalition believes that in France, “the policies of the public authorities are not sufficiently aggressive towards targeted products”. The latter again pointed to endocrine disruptors, but also fast food, which young people particularly like.

Brands’ “aggressive marketing” to children is also on the association’s radar. “Children are the target of this kind of marketing, especially at the checkout counters where super sweet candies and chocolates are displayed, and very attractive visual merchandising seems benevolent to extremely harmful products”.

Importance of exercise

If the differences (partly cultural) pre-exist, the observations are the same across all European countries. In Finland, for example, the focus on healthy eating is widely spread through TV cooking shows such as Top Chef. However, says Jean-Philippe Ursulet, “the Finns are not really addressing the issue by legislating the product, because these decisions have to be made at the European level”.

Therefore, Finland is also not looking for harmful products and endocrine disruptors. On the other hand, the country has successfully established physical activity hours for employees’ working hours, with Finnish employers spending an average of 200 euros per employee on physical activity (against tax deductions). Sweden has the same dynamic, being named the most sporting country in Europe in 2018 by the European Commission as part of its fight against inaction. In 2017, Eurobarometer dedicated to sports and physical activity Only 15% of Swedes have never been physically active, compared to 46% of French.

In France, the LCO presented the idea to the Senate in early April, Jean-Philippe Ursulet said. “Exercise allows organs to function properly and also eliminates endocrine disruptors.” As a result, he says, one hour of exercise a day can yield fairly encouraging results. “It is this track that we have to follow. Of course, certain products are banned at the same time. »

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