Obesity is a health challenge that has reached epidemic proportions, and it continues to escalate.[1] Estimates from the World Health Organization suggest that obesity causes more than 1.2 million deaths annually, and accounts for more than 13% of total mortality in Europe.[2]

Despite the scale of the challenge, none of the 53 European Member States has achieved progress in meeting the WHO Global Non-Communicable Disease (NCD) target of halting the rise of obesity by 2025. Considering that obesity also increases the risk factors for other NCDs (such as cancer, cardiovascular diseases and type 2 diabetes), it also jeopardizes the chances of meeting other NCD targets, including the overall target to reduce NCD mortality by 25% by 2025.

In addition to the burden on people living with obesity, it also has a severe financial impact on our societies. The combined direct and indirect healthcare costs of obesity are currently estimated at 3.3% of total GDP in OECD countries[3] and the figures are expected to grow by adding financial burdens to national healthcare budgets, as well as damaging economic growth. For example, studies shows that obesity is associated with productivity losses that are almost twice as high as for people of normal weight over a lifetime.[4]

Yet, obesity does not receive the political attention it deserves. The policy initiatives that do exist at EU and national level are aimed at prevention rather than obesity management and treatment. For that reason, these initiatives are not delivering better outcomes for people living with obesity today.

In this regard, Lilly welcomes the sixth edition of POLITICO’s Healthcare Summit, which will be a very timely opportunity to gather policymakers, academics, civil society and industry representatives to exchange views on the policy solutions urgently needed to properly address obesity in the EU.

We hope that the discussion will help raise awareness about obesity as a chronic recurrent disease and highlight the urgency to set ambitious targets and take effective measures to tackle obesity. While promoting active lifestyles and healthy eating is imperative to address the challenges posed by this condition, it is not going to be enough to help people living with obesity today. A long-term and holistic approach to treatment is required to improve the health outcomes, quality of life and wellbeing of people living with obesity.

Another important issue is that there isn’t the same level of screening for obesity as there is for other NCDs/conditions. The lack of data on obesity makes it difficult for policymakers to make evidence-based decisions.[5] We cannot improve what we cannot measure.

The EU can do more to support Member States in tackling the challenge of obesity. While Europe is diverse, especially when it comes to healthcare systems, there is great value in regional guidance, target setting and best-practice sharing. The EU can play an instrumental role in driving the improvement of obesity care in Member States, with the goal of improving health outcomes and avoiding costly complications. There is a need for immediate action, or else the scale of obesity and its consequences will soon become an unbearable burden on our health systems.

1 WHO “European Regional Obesity Report 2022. Copenhagen: WHO Regional Office for Europe; 2022. License: CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 IGO.

2 Ibidem.

3 World Obesity Federation, “Obesity: missing the 2025 global targets”. WOF; 2020.

4 Neovius K et al.,“Lifetime productivity losses associated with obesity status in early adulthood”. Appl Health Econ Health Policy. 2012;10(5):309–17.5 World Obesity Federation (2021) “Why collecting data on Obesity is so important”.