The UK has been ranked fourth for having the most overweight and obese adults in Europe, where obesity affects 59% of adults across the continent, a study has found.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) report said overweight and obesity have reached “epidemic proportions” in Europe, causing an estimated more than 1.2 million deaths every year.
It added that excess body fat leads to premature death and is a leading risk factor for disability.
Across Europe, being overweight or obese affects 8% of children under five and one in three children of school age.
According to the study, of all European countries the UK ranks fourth for having the most overweight and obese adults, behind Israel, Malta and Turkey.
The research noted that obesity is associated with many diseases, including musculoskeletal complications, Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and at least 13 types of cancer.
A million hospital admissions with obesity as factor
NHS figures for England show that 63% of adults in England in 2018 – the most recent data available – were overweight or obese.
In 2019/20, there were just over one million hospital admissions in England where obesity was a factor, a 17% rise on 2018/19.
Meanwhile, NHS Digital data for children shows that obesity prevalence among four and five-year-olds in Reception class rose from 9.9% in 2019/20 to 14.4% in 2020/21.
Among Year 6 pupils, who are aged 10 and 11, obesity increased from 21% in 2019/20 to just over a quarter in 2020/21.
No member state on track to reach target to halt rise
The report said that there have been “alarmingly” consistent increases in the prevalence of obesity in the WHO European region and “no member state is on track to reach the target of halting the rise in obesity by 2025”.
It added that across the region obesity is likely to be “directly responsible” for at least 200,000 new cancer cases annually, with this figure projected to rise in the coming decades.
The report said the COVID pandemic has made things worse, including for children in the UK, due to drops in exercise and increases “in the consumption of foods high in fat, sugar and salt”.
It added that for some countries, it is predicted that obesity will overtake smoking as the main risk factor for preventable cancer in the coming decades.
The report said “obesity is a disease – not only a risk factor” and its causes are more complex than just an unhealthy diet and physical inactivity.
Measures to reduce obesity in the report included a call for unhealthy food marketing to children to be stopped, limiting “the proliferation of takeaway outlets in low-income neighbourhoods” and nutritional food standards in settings such as nurseries put into law.