The cost of caring for the overweight in Switzerland is SFr2.7 billion ($2.1 billion) a year and rising, according to health officials.
They say almost four in ten adults and 25 per cent of children are overweight, generally as a result of a poor diet and lack of exercise.
Thomas Zeltner, director of the Federal Health Office, on Thursday called on the government to draw up a policy on healthy eating and to launch more information campaigns.
According to a Health Office study, 1.8 million people over the age of 15 were overweight in 2001 – almost a third of the population.
A further half million were classed as “chubby” (7.7 per cent).
Officials said the costs of dealing with the overweight, mainly through health-related problems, rose to SFr2.7 billion in 2001.
More than 98 per cent of this sum was spent on treating illnesses such as diabetes, hypertension, heart disease and orthopaedic problems.
Hospital and outpatient costs alone accounted for SFr1-1.6 billion – about three per cent of the country’s total health-care bill.
The number of overweight children is three times higher than 20 years ago, and the percentage of overweight adults has grown from 30 to 37 per cent in the past ten years.
Zeltner said the trend reflected the fashion for over-size portions, sedentary lifestyles, and a poor diet coupled with little exercise.
Officials said the repercussions were not only physical: being overweight also led to many social problems.
But while more adults and children continue to pile on the kilos, the number of underweight people has remained stable at 13 per cent.
Zeltner noted the importance of information programmes about nutrition, like the Health Office’s “Swiss Balance” project, which is spreading the healthy-eating message to tens of thousands of people.
But he called on the government to do more to hammer home the benefits of a balanced diet.
“Being overweight is not just an individual problem, it is a community issue,” added Bertino Somaini of Swiss Balance.
Somaini said SFr2 million had already been invested in projects combining advice on healthy eating and taking up sports.
Zeltner said a national policy on nutrition should be based on standards set by the World Health Organization (WHO), which Switzerland supported in May.
The Health Office has defined eight top priorities, including commissioning a study of Swiss eating habits, and teaching schoolchildren and the elderly to eat more healthily.
swissinfo with agencies
2.2 million people are overweight in Switzerland.
They cost the country around SFr2.7 billion per year.
One in four children is overweight, three times more than 20 years ago.
In 10 years the percentage of overweight adults grew from 30% to 37%.
Excessive weight can lead to hypertension, heart disease, diabetes and orthopaedic complications.
The Federal Health Office launched the campaign, "Swiss Balance", to combat obesity.
The campaign has so far involved 100,000 people, including 25,000 young people.
Swiss Balance promotes a healthy diet and exercise.
The campaign is targeted at politicians, professionals like doctors and teachers, and businesses.