Obesity in Europe: Ireland and Greece Lead the Way

Talking of the 21st century’s vilest issues, obesity is right at the top with heavy drinking and terrorism. Our love for junk foods and poor attitude towards working out are hitting sickening levels, and this is the main culprit behind obesity – an issue that should as well be declared a universal disaster. 

Europe, in particular, is in the middle of an obesity crisis. A study by the World Health Organization (WHO) has revealed an alarming increase in the percentage of overweight and obese people in Europe in the last one decade, and the estimation of what it could be like in the next fifteen years is even worse. The study involved 53 countries, and it shows that 41 of them will experience an increase in overweight adults, while 47 and 34 of them will suffer an increase in obese males and females respectively.

Just for the record, one is classed as overweight if their Body Mass Index (BMI) is more than 25, and obese if their BMI is more than 30, according to the WHO.

If you consider the statistics of a report released in 2014 by McKinsey and Company, you’d find the above information worth worrying about. The report reveals that the current £6-£8 billion cost of obesity to the NHS in the UK could rise to a whopping £12 billion by 2030 if the WHO projection comes to pass.

Ireland at the top of the pile

Of the 53 WHO European region countries in which the 2010 study was carried, Ireland is the most affected – with 65.5% of its adult population overweight or obese. By 2030, the proportion is expected to have increased to 87%, which would be enough to render Ireland an obese nation. Sweden – one of the typically healthiest nations on the planet – couldn’t produce any laudable results either. The WHO predicts an increase from the current 14% percent of obese men and 12% of women to a startling 26% and 22% respectively.

What is known as the Western pattern diet has been found to be a major contributor to the obesity problem in Europe. This diet mostly comprises of refined grain, red meat, fatty foods, sugary drinks, high-fat dairy products and processed meat. In Ireland, 92% of all agricultural land is used for cattle rearing and dairy production, and only 8% for crop farming. This kind of provides an answer to the obesity problem in the country.

If both farmers and consumers would develop a better understanding and get to learn the relationship between their dietary habits and their general health, they would surely try to balance between meat production and crop farming for the sake of their kids and themselves.

Financial crisis in Greece causing childhood obesity

In the last quarter of 2014, the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) conducted a research in which 44% of Greek children were classed obese or overweight, ranking Greek first among a host other European nations. 

We never thought it would reach there, but it has. The children are now becoming victims of the crisis as well. It has been reported that there has been an increase in the general body weights of children in Greek during the period of the crisis. Reason? Children are forced to eat cheap foods, which are basically poor in nutrients. According to a report by Eurostat, almost half of the Greek population cannot afford a meal with fish, chicken, meat (or vegetarian equivalent) for two consecutive days, thanks to the crisis, which doubled the number of Greeks living below the poverty line between 2007 and 2014.

Another legit explanation to the childhood obesity issue is the fact that most Greeks cannot access health care benefit, a privilege they lose two years after losing their jobs. With the rate of unemployment being around 26%, and most of the people having lost their jobs during the first year of the crisis, it could be the third consecutive year now for some people – and their children – living without health cover. Additionally, the capital controls imposed have led to forced expenditure cutback by state hospitals, making access to right equipment and medications by Greeks even harder.

Surely, childhood obesity doesn’t seem to come to an end any time soon. The Greek government is understandably not in a position to put its children under any kind of special treatment, neither can parents afford their children obesity-free lives.

Parents to pay for their children’s obesity?

Parents who let their children suffer obesity are ’lazy slobs who don’t care’’ and should be fined for it. This is according to a British obesity charity who think the health and well-being of a child is 100% the parent’s responsibility. Drawing inspiration from Puerto Rican lawmakers, who have proposed a bill that, if passed into law, will see parents who ignore health advice suffer financial punishment, chair of the Child Growth Foundation and spokesperson for the National Obesity Forum, Tam Fry, believes putting parents under such pressure would be a great step towards stamping out childhood obesity

Looking keenly into the situation in the UK, these calls are justifiable, and you would almost agree with them. The Health and Social Care Information Center (HSCIC) revealed that one in every ten five-year-old and one in every five 11-year-old British children are obese. Overall, as a 2% increase since 2006, 35.5% of all children are overweight or obese after leaving primary school. According to Fry, this would be so easy to get rid of, or at least reduce, if the law would force some responsibility into parents.

Unexpectedly, though, British child nutrition organizations and doctors are not in support of this proposal. The general view is that, no one can prove such a holistic approach has worked before and that passing such a law would be unfairly overlooking the contribution of major food corporations in the country.

One Mr. Kim Roberts, CEO of Health Exercise and Nutrition for the Really Young (HENRY) doesn’t think the proposal is worth considering either. He thinks such a law would have parents so desperate and paranoid such that they would focus on the weight of one child rather than putting effort to ensure the whole family is leading a healthy lifestyle.

Finally, chair of the Nutrition Committee at the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health says that since the child has always been the society's responsibility, and not just the parents', such a proposal should consider having the whole society receiving financial punishment if it is to be evenhanded.