Obesity is one of the greatest public health challenges of the 21st century. Its prevalence has tripled in many countries of the WHO European Region since the 1980s, and the numbers of those affected continue to rise at an alarming rate, particularly among children. In addition to causing various physical disabilities and psychological problems, excess weight drastically increases a person's risk of developing a number of noncommunicable diseases (NCDs), including cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes. The risk of developing more than one of these diseases (co-morbidity) also increases with increasing body weight. Obesity is already responsible for 2–8% of health costs and 10–13% of deaths in different parts of the Region.
Both societies and governments need to act to curb the epidemic. National policies should encourage and provide opportunities for greater physical activity, and improve the affordability, availability and accessibility of healthy foods. They should also encourage the involvement of different government sectors, civil society, the private sector and other stakeholders.
A regional nutrient profile model has been developed as a common tool for use or adaption by Member States across Europe (on a voluntary basis and taking into account individual national circumstances) and has since been identified as a key activity in the WHO European Food and Nutrition Action Plan 2015– 2020. It has been specifically designed for the purpose of restricting marketing of unhealthy foods to children in an event to curb the obesity epidemic.
In July 2013 the ministers of health of the WHO European Member States adopted the Vienna Declaration on Nutrition and Noncommunicable Diseases in the Context of Health 2020. This Declaration acknowledged the high burden of disease caused by unhealthy diets in many countries of the Region and expressed particular concern about the rise of overweight and obesity among children.
As one of the major risk factors for cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer, obesity is also a primary focus of current worldwide efforts to tackle the increasing epidemic of NCDs. In September 2011 the United Nations held a Summit Meeting on NCDs, only the second high-level meeting of its kind ever held to focus on a global disease issue. In preparation for the meeting, WHO/Europe facilitated a Regional consultation with Member States and a Global Forum on NCDs.
To facilitate action across the WHO European Region, WHO/Europe organized the WHO European Ministerial Conference on Counteracting Obesity in Istanbul, Turkey on 15–17 November 2006. At the Conference, Member States adopted the European Charter on Counteracting Obesity.