In a report on obesity levels in the 53 countries of
the WHO's European Region, the United Nations health agency said up
to 27 percent of 13-year-olds and 33 percent of 11-year-olds are
"Our perception of what is normal has shifted; being overweight is
now more common than unusual. We must not let another generation
grow up with obesity as the new norm," said Zsuzsanna Jakab, the
WHO's regional director.
She blamed a combination of high levels of physical inactivity,
coupled with a culture that promotes cheap, convenient foods high in
sugars, fats and salt. This combination, she said, "is deadly".
Obesity rates among 11-year-old boys and girls were highest in
Greece, Portugal, Ireland and Spain, and lowest in the Netherlands
and Switzerland, the report found.
Lack of exercise is a key part of the problem.
In 23 out of 36 countries, more than 30 percent of boys and girls
aged 15 and over are not getting enough exercise. Among adults,
rates of women who don't engage in enough physical activity range
from 16 percent in Greece and 17 percent in Estonia to 71 percent in
Malta and 76 percent in Serbia.
The WHO recommends children aged 5 to 17 should get at least 60
minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity a day, and adults
should do at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week.
Joao Breda, a WHO expert on nutrition, physical activity and
obesity, said peoples' living environments — including the layout of
town, cities, schools and workplaces — are crucial to increasing
rates of exercise.
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"We need to create environments where physical activity is
encouraged and the healthy food choice is the default choice,
regardless of social group," he said in a statement released with
"Physical activity and healthy food choices should be taken very
seriously in all environments — schools, hospitals, cities, towns
and workplaces. As well as the food industry, the urban planning
sector can make a difference," he added.
The WHO report found, however, that some countries, including France
and some Scandinavian countries, have managed to contain the obesity
epidemic "through a whole-of-government approach".
It said many policies in these countries — such as promoting
vegetable and fruit consumption in schools, taxing certain foods to
reduce intake, controlling advertising, employing good surveillance
and monitoring, and taking action to promote physical activity — had
combined to help keep obesity levels stable.
(Reporting by Kate Kelland; editing by
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