(NaturalNews) If you thought that obesity was a problem in the United States -- and make no mistake, it is -- it is becoming so widespread in Europe that health experts are afraid it is becoming far too acceptable.
The World Health Organization (WHO) reported recently that obesity is so common on the continent that the condition is at risk of becoming "the new norm," as about one-third of all European teenagers are fatter than they should be -- and it's ruining their health.
As reported by Reuters, the WHO said in its report on obesity levels in 53 countries considered part of the organization's European Region that as many as 27 percent of 13-year-olds and 33 percent of 11-year-olds were considered overweight.
"Our perception of what is normal has shifted; being overweight is now more common than unusual. We must not let another generation grow up with obesity as the new norm," said Zsuzsanna Jakab, the WHO's regional director.
She went on to blame a combination of decreased levels of physical activity and a culture that produces and promotes cheap, convenient foods that are high in calories, fats, salt and sugar. It is a combination that she says is "deadly."
'Kids should get 60 minutes of exercise a day'
What's more alarming is the pervasiveness of the problem among the world's youth. From the WHO report:
Childhood obesity is one of the most serious public health challenges of the 21st century. The problem is global and is steadily affecting many low- and middle-income countries, particularly in urban settings. The prevalence has increased at an alarming rate. Globally, in 2010 the number of overweight children under the age of five, is estimated to be over 42 million. Close to 35 million of these are living in developing countries.
What's more, children who are obese are likely to remain that way into adulthood and, as such, are more prone to developing heart disease, diabetes and other life-altering, life-shortening conditions.
The report said the highest obesity rates among 11-year-old boys and girls were in Greece, Portugal, Ireland and Spain; the lowest rates were in the Netherlands and Switzerland.
WHO analysts said that a lack of adequate exercise was a major part of the problem; the organization recommends "at least 60 minutes of regular, moderate- to vigorous-intensity activity each day that is developmentally appropriate." The organization recommends that adults get a minimum of 150 minutes of exercise per week.
More from Reuters:
In 23 out of 36 countries, more than 30 percent of boys and girls aged 15 and over are not getting enough exercise. Among adults, rates of women who don't engage in enough physical activity range from 16 percent in Greece and 17 percent in Estonia to 71 percent in Malta and 76 percent in Serbia.
Big government 'solutions' to the problem of obesity?
Joao Breda, a WHO expert on nutrition, physical activity and obesity, said in a statement that the living environments of people -- the layouts of cities, towns, schools, marketplaces and workplaces - are crucial to boosting exercise rates.
"We need to create environments where physical activity is encouraged and the healthy food choice is the default choice, regardless of social group," he said.
"Physical activity and healthy food choices should be taken very seriously in all environments - schools, hospitals, cities, towns and workplaces. As well as the food industry, the urban planning sector can make a difference," Breda added.
WHO said in the report that some countries, such as France and some of the Scandinavian nations, have been able to contain the epidemic of obesity "through a whole-of-government approach" -- in other words, through a big government approach. As Reuters reports:
It said many policies in these countries - such as promoting vegetable and fruit consumption in schools, taxing certain foods to reduce intake, controlling advertising, employing good surveillance and monitoring, and taking action to promote physical activity - had combined to help keep obesity levels stable.
Some of those approaches are being employed in the U.S. as well. First Lady Michelle Obama's "Let's Move" campaign has resulted in mandates for public schools regarding the elimination or limitation of some menu items. Also, officials in some larger U.S. cities are moving to ban certain foods and food items as part of an effort to force people to make better choices.