71st session of the Regional Committee for Europe
EASO, ASO, Gasol Foundation, WOF and their Members commend WHO and its Member States in the European region for their leadership in their response to the COVID-19 pandemic and their work to date on identifying lessons learned to prepare for future health emergencies.
However, there is an urgent need to step up policy action and investment in NCD and obesity prevention, treatment and management, now and in future preparedness plans. Member States across the region need to take action on obesity as part of global health security efforts.
Obesity is a complex multifactorial disease that independently increases mortality rates and is a major risk factor for the three NCDs responsible for the majority of premature deaths worldwide - cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and cancer. This definition was also officially recognised by the EC in March 2021, marking a key milestone to address the obesity epidemic. However, progress has been slow and gaps that urgently need to be addressed remain.
Early on, it became clear that obesity is a major risk factor for COVID-19 complications and mortality. WOF’s latest report highlighted the correlation between COVID-19 deaths rates and obesity: death rates are ten times higher in countries where over 50% of the population is overweight, and 90% of deaths from COVID-19 have occurred in countries with high obesity rates.
World Obesity’s Global Atlas on Childhood Obesity predicts that over 18 million European children will be living with obesity by 2025. No country in the region is on track to meet WHO obesity targets. The rising costs of obesity and obesity-related disease are also an imperative to act: it is estimated that the cost of high BMI to health services in Europe is US$ 218 billion per year, equating 11.4% of all healthcare expenditure.
Despite the well-developed health systems of most European countries, the region was for long the epicentre of the epidemic, and weaknesses across health, social, economic and food systems were exposed. The strict measures imposed like self-isolation and lockdown have resulted in physical activity restrictions, limited accessibility to healthy food, and increased mental health difficulties have disproportionately impacted vulnerable populations, including people living with obesity (PLWO).
When preparing their plans for future pandemics, it is vital that we focus on ensuring that the health of vulnerable groups is sustained. We urge Member States to:
- Allocate health system resources to ensure appropriate care for PLWO who require COVID-19 treatment, while ensuring access to routine services remains, now and in the event of future pandemics.
- Ensure responses to ongoing and future health emergencies integrate prevention policies for obesity and other NCDs, including enabling equitable access to nutritionally adequate food, support physical activity and promote good mental health
- Adopt systems-based approaches between health and other sectors to address the upstream factors influencing obesity and related NCDs, including lack of access to healthy food, poorly designed built environments, access to health services and education
- Call for high-level political commitment and investment in UHC, ensuring efforts are cross-departmental and cross-sectoral. Governments should invest in obesity care across the whole spectrum and include obesity in NCD and COVID-19 recovery plans
- Ensure the health workforce is adequately trained to treat vulnerable populations in a culturally-sensitive, non-stigmatising way
Actions to address obesity and NCDs will be essential to help prevent the disproportionate impact of pandemics on vulnerable populations. Until the arrival of COVID-19, the health consequences of obesity were underplayed and conflated with other issues. Member States in the European region have the opportunity to fast-track the implementation of nutrition and other public health policies to improve overall health and strengthen population resilience to future health threats.
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Statement to the 71st session of the Regional Committee for Europe
Provisional agenda item 3: Response to the COVID-19 pandemic: lessons learned to date from the WHO European RegionDownload (188.24 KB)