Europeans unaware about dangers of obesity

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Obesity has been pegged as a major threat to health and wellbeing of our society and despite efforts by charities, non-profit organisations and authorities, there are still quite a few people who are unaware about the dangers that obesity poses.

According to a major public perception survey, conducted among more than 14,000 people in seven countries, nearly a quarter of Europeans don’t realise that obesity can cause heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure. Less than half recognise a link with strokes and only 16 per cent are aware of the connection with cancer.

The survey is one of the most extensive obesity perception studies yet developed. It was conducted in Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom by the independent strategic insight agency Opinium, in collaboration with the European Association for the Study of Obesity (EASO) and with the support of global healthcare company Medtronic.

“Obesity is one of the fastest growing threats to the health and wellbeing of our society,” said Euan Woodward, Executive Director of EASO. In some European countries as many as six out of ten adults are now classified as overweight or obese and by 2030 it is predicted that this could rise to as high as nine out of ten. “And yet, this survey shows that many people still appear to have little understanding of the consequences,” he said.

The survey showed that many people also have a lack of understanding of their own weight. Four out of five who have a weight and height ratio that classifies them as ‘obese’ described themselves as simply ‘overweight’ and a third of those who were ‘overweight’ thought that their weight was ‘normal’.

Although less than half of all respondents (45 per cent) are happy with their weight, one in five takes no action whatsoever to control it and only 17 per cent monitor the calories they eat.

Most respondents recognised poor diet and lack of exercise as factors causing obesity, but less than a quarter knew that a lack of sleep can be a contributor, and under half knew that stress could also play a significant role.

“Governments, policymakers and health authorities should be greatly concerned by the findings of this survey,” said Mr Woodward. “It confirms that much greater effort is needed to educate people about the implications.”

A survey conducted by EASO last year highlighted a similar need to raise awareness among policymakers, particularly about the impact that obesity prevention and management programmes could have to reduce the many secondary diseases that are becoming an increasing burden for already overstretched health services.

EASO points out that research has shown that nine out of ten people with type 2 diabetes, for example, no longer require often-costly medication two years after undergoing obesity surgery.

“It is clear that the vast majority of people regard obesity as a problem purely of personal lifestyle, rather than recognising that there are other underlying issues which society needs to address,” said Mr Woodward.

He says that overweight and obese individuals should have access to appropriate care to help them manage their weight and prevent later complications. “There is an urgent need for better education to improve understanding and to inform overweight or obese people about the support and, if appropriate, treatments that can help them avoid the many secondary conditions like heart disease,” he said.

“Major policy change is needed and a first step must be improving awareness of the challenge faced.”