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Sabato, 18 Maggio 2024
The invisible pandemic

"Europe isn't doing enough to combat obesity", experts say

Genetics, poor nutrition, a sedentary lifestyle, and sleep deprivation are just some of the causes of what must be considered a disease. "Different and innovative solutions are needed," the Commission's front-of-pack nutrition labelling has proved to be ineffective

Europe must do more to fight obesity. This was the key takeaway from the seminar "Obesity: The Invisible Pandemic," organized by the European policy institute Competere.eu and hosted by Green MEP Rosa D'Amato at the European Parliament. Several professors and researchers from different institutes and universities have emphasized the need to raise awareness about this global issue, starting with its reframing.

The data

"Overweight and obesity should be considered a disease because they are booming like an epidemic," said Professor Luc van Gaal from University of Antwerp, whom we interviewed. This claim is confirmed by the data - the number of obese people worldwide has nearly tripled since 1975, D'Amato reported at the event's opening, and in the European Union alone, over half of adults are overweight. By 2035, an estimated 2 billion people will suffer from obesity, costing over €3,75 trillion.

" Today’s obesity crisis exacts a significant toll on human health, social cohesion, and economic vitality, undermining productivity and overall societal well-being," said Pietro Paganini, president of Competere.eu, referring to the fact that obesity places an economic burden on national healthcare systems and prevents affected individuals from being active in the labor market.

The numbers are consistent with those reported by the World Health Organization (WHO) - in 2022, over one billion people suffered from worldwide. Since 1990, the prevalence of this disease has more than doubled among adults and, even more alarmingly, quadrupled in the 5 to 19 age group.

"Over 50-60% of European citizens are overweight or obese. Even the new generation has this problem: 1 in 3 children is obese," said Professor Michele Carruba from University of Milan. "The issue is that a child who develops obesity between 6 and 8 years old is highly likely to become an obese adult."

What are the causes?

Science is clear: obesity is the result of a complex interplay of various factors, including genetics, environment, and society. While little can be done about genetics, unhealthy eating habits, sedentary lifestyles, and sleep deprivation are among the causes that can be addressed and medically treated. Professor van Gaal has recalled how weight gain can also be due to environmental pollution - for instance, microplastics or other toxic particles like bisphenols can disrupt our endocrine system and remain in the body for up to 20 or 30 years.

Obesity is also hereditary, which places even greater responsibility on governments. Not to mention that obese young people are at greater risk of contracting serious illnesses in adulthood. "Obesity can lead to cardiovascular and pulmonary diseases, strokes, hypertension, diabetes, and even cancer. 35% of cancers are related to obesity," explained Professor Carruba. This means, on average, "10 years in life loss and 20 years in healthy life loss," he added, emphasizing how "for the first time in history, the new generation is less healthy than the previous generation," which is a historical reversal of trends in human health advancements.

What can politics do?

Given obesity's repercussions not only on individual well-being but also on societal well-being and on the economic system, the task of European and national politics should be to raise awareness about this disease and provide people with innovative tools and solutions. Recognizing it as a disease would also reduce the stigma around it. "The EU must adopt a new stance on obesity, embracing different and innovative solutions that science and technology offer," said Paganini, highlighting the ineffectiveness of the front-of-pack nutrition labelling system used in the EU.

Certainly, it is necessary "to promote a culture of proper nutrition. We must educate children in schools, from the earliest months of life, on dietary education and a healthy lifestyle," proposed Carruba. But to achieve this, policymakers must address the issue of food security, that is, "the availability, access, utilization of food, and its stability," reminded Professor Donatella Saccone from University of Gastronomic Sciences.

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"Europe isn't doing enough to combat obesity", experts say

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