The number of seriously overweight people is increasing almost everywhere in the world, including in the least-developed nations. Switzerland has not been spared and is among the 73 countries where the number of obese people has more than doubled in the past 35 years.
In 2015, 107.7 million children (under 20) and 603.7 million adults were obese worldwide, according to a global study on the health effects of obesity, published on June 12 in the New England Journal of Medicine.
The overall obesity rate was 5% among children (under 20) and 12% among adults, the researchers found. Among adults, the prevalence of obesity was generally higher among women than men in all age brackets.
The study confirmed that a high body mass indexexternal link (BMI) was a risk factor for an expanding set of chronic diseases “including cardiovascular disease, diabetes mellitus, chronic kidney disease, many cancers, and an array of musculoskeletal disorders”.
In Switzerland, the rates were 4% among children and 12% among adults. A report published last year by the Swiss Health Observatory, Nutrition and Movement in Switzerlandexternal link, found that almost one in five children was overweight or obese.
“Countless factors have an influence on being overweight or obese,” Adrien Kay, spokesman for the Federal Health Office, told swissinfo.ch. “We can influence some of them, for example a lack of exercise or not eating a balanced diet. Then there are factors connected to one’s environment, such as where you work, infrastructure, mobility and the food industry.”
Given the many risk factors, Kay says it’s clear that health problems such as being overweight or obese are not just a question of health policy.
Another survey in 2013 found that two-fifths of the Swiss population aged 15 and older were overweight, despite more people doing more exercise over the past decade.
In September, a survey by the gfs.bern institute reported that a quarter of Swiss thought a new tax should be imposed on food with high sugar, salt or fat content; almost three-quarters wanted a ban on the advertising of junk food targeting children and two-thirds believed that the state should subsidise healthy food.
For its part, the Federal Office of Public Health stresses that “a balanced diet and sufficient exercise are key to physical and mental health”.
“For this reason the federal authorities have come up with a range of health promotion and prevention measures,” it says. These include information sheets and tips on correct body movement and nutrition.
Nevertheless, nine out of ten Swiss think businesses and politicians should take a more active role in promoting healthy lifestyles, according to the gfs.bern poll.
“We [the health office] are working with the food industry towards voluntary agreements, but to make more progress, there needs to be good cooperation among all the parties,” Kay said.