New WHO / Europe Analysis Identifies Surprising Trends in Overweight and Obesity Rates in the Region

An analysis identified that in some countries in the WHO European Region, rates of overweight and obesity have stopped increasing, and that higher social and economic status does not necessarily correlate with higher rates. lower overweight and obesity. In addition, the analysis explains that obesity and overweight that begin in childhood lead to more health problems.

These 3 trends were identified following a review of 12 articles, the results of which were published in a special supplement to the medical journal Obesity Reviews entitled “From data to action: combating childhood obesity in Europe and beyond”.

Overweight and obesity in children is one of the major challenges in the Region and a major risk factor for a number of health problems, including cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.

Smoothing overweight and obesity rates in children

According to the latest data from the WHO’s European Childhood Obesity Surveillance Initiative (COSI), countries in the south of the Region have experienced a higher prevalence of obesity. But new trends show that these countries have been successful in halting and even reducing the levels of overweight and obesity among children.

Other parts of the Region, however, showed different trends. There, obesity and overweight levels remained stable or increased slightly, with no major differences between boys and girls.

Across the Region, 28.7% of boys and 26.5% of girls are overweight or live with obesity.

The COVID-19 pandemic may have dramatically altered the regional situation, and some recent studies show that overweight and obesity rates may have already increased.

Higher socioeconomic status does not always mean lower rates of overweight and obesity

While high-income countries in the Region have lower rates of overweight and obesity among people of higher socioeconomic status, the trend is opposite in emerging economy countries.

The latest research based on COSI data refutes another popular idea – that low socioeconomic status is consistently associated with less healthy behaviors and diets.

The great diversity of socio-economic status models from one country to another confirms once again the need for policies specific to each country and at the population level to fight against childhood obesity. There is no single approach based on the experience of high income countries that can effectively address the problem.

WHO Supplement for Obesity Reviews emphasizes that more action and investment is needed to achieve the goals outlined by the WHO Global Plan of Action for Disease Prevention and Control 2013-2030 and supported by the WHO European Work Program 2020-2025.

Obesity and overweight lead to more health problems if they start in childhood

Childhood obesity is associated with a wide range of serious health and social consequences during childhood and with higher risks of premature death and disability in adulthood.

Overweight and obesity are proven risk factors for a number of non-communicable diseases, including cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes. People who are overweight can suffer from functional limitations and psychological problems.

Surveillance data on the prevalence of overweight and obesity in children and adolescents is essential to inform the development of effective policies and strategies.


Data source: WHO European Childhood Obesity Surveillance Initiative (COSI)

All the results mentioned are based on data from COSI, which has been collecting quality data in European WHO Member States for more than a decade. COSI surveillance is used to determine new trends in obesity and overweight in school-aged children, and enables decision-makers to create policy conditions that make healthy childhoods accessible to all.

For more information, please access the full obesity reviews supplement using the link below.

Mary I. Bruner