Let’s recognise obesity for what it is: a chronic disease on the rise that needs a comprehensive healthcare system response
As reflected in the WHO European Regional Obesity Report 2022, obesity is inflicting a profound burden on individuals, families, societies and healthcare systems across Europe. People living with the condition are struggling on a daily basis with weight management and the stigma associated with obesity. Recent initiatives such as the Joint DeclarationTowards Applying a Non-Communicable Disease (NCD) Framework for Obesity National Plans Across Europe and the upcoming EU NCD Roadmap are providing momentum for action, however the condition is still not adequately recognised as an NCD in national or European policymaking. This creates barriers for effective prevention, treatment and management options. The continuous rise in obesity prevalence highlights that a shift from the current status quo is urgently needed. Lilly is joining forces with the obesity community to advocate for modernisation of obesity care, raise broader awareness of obesity as a chronic disease, and contribute to efforts to reduce existing biases and stigma.
Europe’s current approach is costly and ineffective, as obesity prevalence is rising
The launch of the WHO European Regional Obesity Report 2022 puts the spotlight on obesity as one of the most challenging public health concerns of the 21st century. The report has been warmly welcomed by the obesity community but must be followed up by highly impactful EU-wide actions, initiatives and strategies that are supported by the necessary political will to implement them towards real change.
One of the most worrying insights of the report is that overweight and obesity affects almost 60% of adults and nearly one in three children in Europe. No member state in the WHO European Region is on track to reach the Sustainable Development Goal target of halting the rise in obesity by 2025. It is predicted that by 2030, many Europeans will be obese, and in some European countries, 89% of the population are predicted to be overweight or have obesity.
While recent estimates suggest that being overweight and obesity are the fourth most common risk factors for NCDs (after high blood pressure, dietary risks and tobacco), obesity is also a common and serious chronic disease in its own right. Across the WHO European Region, obesity is also estimated to be directly responsible for at least 200,000 new cancer cases annually. Still, the condition does not receive the same level of diagnosis, medical care or insurance coverage as other chronic conditions.
Obesity has a significant impact on already overburdened healthcare systems. It has been estimated to cost the European Union €70 billion annually through healthcare costs and lost productivity. In 2014, as much as 8% of health costs in member states was incurred by obesity alone. Without meaningful action, these costs will continue to rise along with the prevalence of obesity, threatening the sustainability of healthcare systems.
What is the way forward to tackle obesity?
The time to turn the tide against obesity is now, improving health outcomes and strengthening the resilience of our healthcare systems. There are estimate indicating that if European governments invest decisively in cost-effective obesity-intervention policies – such as education and social campaigns, primary care, pharmacotherapy, counselling, and lifestyle interventions– they could save as much as 60% of healthcare expenditure related to obesity care over multiple years. Ambitious action plans with clear performance indicators are crucial to drive such changes, which some countries have started to implement, including, for example, Portugal which has put in place a National Obesity Plan.
The recently published Joint DeclarationTowards Applying an NCD Framework for Obesity National Plans Across Europe is matching that ambition. Driven by the Member of the European Parliament (MEP) Interest Group on Obesity and Health System Resilience and the European Association for the Study of Obesity ( EASO), it clearly outlines several policy options to address the challenge of obesity. Early diagnosis, treatment and long-term management are key components of such a framework, which can be further enabled by improvements in health literacy and adequate funding for research and the establishment of obesity registries.
At EU level, the upcoming publication of the European Commission’s NCDs Roadmap in June supports the momentum created by the Joint Declaration and is an encouraging sign of renewed political attention to the growing problem of NCDs; it will hopefully provide Member States with a set of useful tools and funding to start tackling these challenges. However, it is disappointing to see obesity addressed only as a health determinant in the Roadmap. In line with the Commission’s recognition of obesity as a chronic disease in 2021, I hope to see the condition addressed as such in the NCDs Roadmap implementation and beyond.
At Lilly, we continue to dedicate resources to research and development of new therapies. Only by working together will we be able to truly start tackling this rapidly growing challenge and ensure improved health outcomes for people living with obesity.
 WHO European Regional Obesity Report 2022. Copenhagen: WHO Regional Office for Europe; 2022. Licence: CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 IGO.
 ‘ The future burden of obesity-related diseases in the 53 WHO European-Region countries and the impact of effective interventions: a modelling study’, 2014, Webber, L. et al, http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmjopen-2014-004787
 EASO, ‘ Key Messages’, https://easo.org/advocacy/world-obesity-day/key-messages/
 ‘ Investing in Obesity Treatment to Deliver Significant Healthcare Savings: Estimating the Healthcare Costs of Obesity and the Benefits of Treatment’, Erixon, F, Brandt, L et al, ECIPE Occasional Paper, No. 1/2014. http://ecipe.org/publications/investing-obesity-treatment-deliver-significant-healthcare-savings-estimating-healthcare-costs-obesity-and-benefits-treatment/
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