May 2016 --- Ahead of European Obesity Day (May 20), the United Nations health agency launched a new publication at the European Congress on Obesity in Portugal earlier this week which revealed a rising number of obese adolescents in many countries across Europe.
The Health Behaviour in School-aged Children (HBSC) survey is a WHO collaborative cross-national study that monitors the health behaviors, health outcomes and social environments of boys and girls aged 11, 13 and 15 years every four years. HBSC has collected international data on adolescent health, including eating behaviors, physical activity, sedentary behavior and, more recently, overweight and obesity, for over a quarter of a century, allowing prevalence to be compared across countries and over time.
Obesity is one of the most challenging public health concerns of the 21st century. It is an epidemic that is sweeping Europe and about which not enough is being done, according to health professionals and organizations around the world.
Increasing Consumption of Fruit and Vegetables
Encouraging the consumption of fresh fruit and vegetables alongside improving physical exercise, reducing the overall calorie intake, especially cutting down on sugar, fat and salt as well breaking out of sedentary behavior and obesogenic environments are some of the key factors that global health experts are calling for.
The release of the survey comes at the same time as new US research which finds that eating three or more servings of fruit and vegetables per day may lower your risk of developing peripheral artery disease (PAD), according to new research in Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology, an American Heart Association journal.
PAD narrows the arteries of the legs, limiting blood flow to the muscles and making it difficult or painful to walk or stand.
Previous studies linked lower consumption of fruits and vegetables with the increased occurrence of coronary heart disease and stroke. However, there has been little research into the association of eating fruits and vegetables and PAD.
However, after studying data from 3.7 million people, researchers found three key points; People who reported eating three or more daily servings of fruits and vegetables had 18% lower odds of PAD than those reporting eating less; when stratified by smoking status, the association of lower PAD and increased fruits and vegetables was present only among participants who were current or former smokers and overall, 6.3% of participants had PAD and 29.2% reported eating three or more servings of fruits and vegetables daily.
“Our current study provides important information to the public that something as simple as adding more fruits and vegetables to your diet could have a major impact on the prevalence of life-altering peripheral artery disease,” said Jeffrey Berger, M.D., study coauthor and associate professor of medicine and surgery at New York University School of Medicine in New York City.
European Obesity Day
European Obesity Day (EOD) brings people together to raise awareness and increase knowledge about obesity and the many other diseases on which it impacts such as type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease and tooth decay, to name but a few.
Talking about the WHO study, Dr. Zsuzsanna Jakab, Regional Director for Europe of WHO, said: “Despite sustained efforts to tackle childhood obesity, one in three adolescents is still estimated to be overweight or obese in Europe, with the highest rates found in southern European and Mediterranean countries.”
Calling for ambitious policy action to reach the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) target stop the increase in childhood obesity. “Governments must target efforts and break this harmful cycle from childhood into adolescence and beyond,” she added.
Also speaking about the forthcoming European Obesity Day, Europe's leading organization responsible for research into obesity, the European Association for the Study of Obesity (EASO), has warned that member states need to do more to tackle the growing obesity epidemic, or they could face crippling costs of providing medical care in the future.
According to EASO, too few European countries have effective strategies in place to tackle obesity, and some have none at all.
“Despite the growing epidemic, many plans consist only of collections of vague goals rather than concrete measures,” says EASO President, Professor Hermann Toplak.
“To be effective, Member States need to have comprehensive strategies that cover all aspects of weight management. These should include the promotion of healthier lifestyles and the reduction in demand and consumption of excessive amounts of high-calorie food and drinks, as well as the treatment of obesity to help prevent the many other diseases on which it impacts,” he said.
To help facilitate cooperation between EU countries and to inspire them to do more, EASO organized a major conference in Brussels earlier in May where more than 100 national policy makers, representatives from the European Institutions, the World Health Organization, and healthcare specialists and providers attended to discuss the challenges they face and to share examples of best practice.
There are also all types of events in the coming weeks organized by EASO’s member associations across Europe, including promotions to encourage exercise and healthier eating choices to free public health checks and consultations with healthcare professionals.
Ireland has One of the Highest Obesity Rates in Europe
Obesity experts from IrSPEN (Irish Society for Clinical Nutrition & Metabolism) are calling on the government to implement a national obesity treatment program to reduce the financial and societal burden from obesity-related diseases like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, sleep apnoea, cancer and fertility issues.
By recognizing obesity as a disease of the brain and treating people with personalized treatment program, including diet, exercise, weight loss medicine, cognitive behavioral therapy, and surgery the HSE could have saved millions. For example doing a minimum of 400 operations per year on patients with obesity and difficult to control diabetes would have saved €56 million over a 10-year period from a reduction in diabetes medication costs alone, claims the organization.
IrSPEN’s official call to action is supported by The Royal College of Physicians in Ireland (RCPI) and The European Association for the Study of Obesity (EASO).
Consultant in obesity and endocrinology Professor Francis Finucane has led the development of clinical services for people with severe obesity at Galway University Hospital, one of two dedicated obesity clinics. The other clinic is based in Dublin.
“Failing to accept obesity as a disease contributes to stigma, shame, stress and, ultimately, the worsening health of patients,” said Professor Finucane.
“By taking this personalized approach, we can significantly reduce the costs of obesity-related diseases in Ireland and drastically improve people’s quality of life.”
“We should probably be seeing between 500 and 1,000 new patients a year. At the moment, we see about 400 and the waiting list is over a year for an assessment.”
About one in 20 adults in Ireland have an obesity-related disease.
Replacing Sugar & the Role of Sweeteners
The International Sweeteners Association (ISA) joins the Collectif National des Associations d’Obèses (CNAO – French association for the obese patients) in supporting EOD with the launch of two animated videos to help raise awareness.
As part of the ISA’s support to tackle obesity, it poses questions about the role of low calorie sweeteners in obesity prevention and management.
Replacing sugar-sweetened foods and drinks with their low calorie sweetened equivalent can help reduce overall sugar and calorie intake while maintaining the desired sweet taste in the diet, and thus allow people trying to manage or lose weight to keep the enjoyment of eating and drinking some of their favorite sweet-tasting products, according to ISA.
It also claims that a collective body of evidence supports that, when used in place of sugar and as part of a balanced low-energy diet, low calorie sweeteners can also be a helpful dietary strategy to people wishing to lose weight or to maintain a healthy body weight.
The latest study findings on low calorie sweeteners’ effects on energy intake, food behavior and weight management, as well as the psychological factors influencing their use, are being discussed by experts at the ISA symposium in Porto, in the context of the 24th European Congress on Obesity, which has been running this week and finishes on EOD tomorrow.