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Swiss continue to flounder against the flab

More than 37 per cent of Swiss are overweight.

(imagepoint)

More and more of the Swiss population are overweight or even obese simply because they eat too much or badly, according to a national nutrition report.

It says that one in three people weighs too much, and related health problems cost around SFr2.7 billion ($2.05 billion) each year.

The report, which comes out every seven years, says that at least 37 per cent of the population are overweight.

"The country's biggest nutritional issue is our growing waistband," the head of the Federal Health Office, Thomas Zeltner, said on Monday.

Type 2 diabetes in particular is on the rise. Already 250,000 people suffer from the disease and that number is increasing by ten per cent every year.

Zeltner admits that it is difficult to turn back the tide. One problem is the lack of funding: the government gave out only SFr1 million this year for nutrition education.

The head of the health office says that it is also difficult to understand the relationship between nutrition and weight problems. This is why there are no guarantees that prevention projects are efficient.

Even so, over the past three years the Swiss Balance programme has promoted weight reduction, balanced nutrition and exercise to fight obesity.

The fact remains that in 1990, only 30 per cent of the population suffered from stretched waistbands. In 2002, around 2.2 million in Switzerland were overweight, a figure that is increasing by 50,000 every year.

Children affected

The situation is not much better for children and teenagers, with one in four facing weight-related issues.

Apart from the diabetes problem, heart disease, gout and orthopaedic problems also affect people carrying too much weight, and account for around six per cent of health costs.

Interior Minister Pascal Couchepin said that the Swiss could improve their health simply by changing their eating habits.

"There are plenty of safe products available," he commented.

Increasing weight problems are blamed on a sedentary lifestyle, with little physical activity and high consumption levels of energy-rich foods.

Fast food is considered a prime culprit. According to the nutrition report, nearly one in five young people between the ages of 15 and 24 consumes this type of food more than twice a week on average.

Although there is an abundance of food, there are plenty who suffer from nutritional deficiencies, including children, pregnant women, the elderly and hospital patients.

Eating disorders are also among the most common psychological problems for youngsters. Around one per cent of girls aged from 14 to 17 suffer from anorexia.

Despite all these problems, Couchepin says the state doesn't want to play food cop.

"We cannot be checking what's on everyone's plate," he said. "The best we can do is rely on prevention."

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

The fifth national report on nutrition says that 37% of the population are overweight.
Nearly a fifth of youngsters aged 15 to 25 eat fast food at least twice a week.
Diseases and health problems related to weight cost SF2.7 billion every year in Switzerland.

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