Germany Wakes up to Obesity

As elsewhere in Europe, obesity is on the rise in Germany. According to government statistics, two-thirds of all German men between the ages of 18 and 80 are overweight and almost half of all women have a weight problem. These numbers add up to about 37 million adults and 2 million children and teenagers suffering from some kind of weight related disorders.

In response, the German government has now embarked on a new obesity initiative prepared by Health Minister Ulla Schmidt in cooperation with Food, Agriculture and Consumer Protection Minister Horst Seehofer. The program’s initiative is to cut diseases related to obesity drastically by the year 2020, and foresees spending 30 million euros ($46.7 million) over the next two years.

As everywhere else, in Germany too, the government recognizes that the epidemic is not only a result of poor nutritional habits and lack of exercise but also wide-ranging societal and infrastructural factors. It therefore calls on politicians, scientists, health-care providers, unions and the food industry to help educate and promote healthier lifestyle approaches. As one may guess the ideas include: education on healthy eating and physical activity, tougher standards on school food programs, better product labeling by the food industry, reduced advertising by the makers of sweets and junk food that target children, i.e. essentially the usual list of initiatives.

As everywhere else, in Germany too, the government largely ignores one major consequences of the fact that 37 Million Germans are already living with this chronic disease, namely that this also calls for an immediate need to provide improved access to evidence-based obesity treatments with expansion of the resources to do so.

As in most other countries (the UK being a remarkable exception), access to professional obesity treatment that includes behavioural therapy, anti-obesity medications and surgery remains limited to a ridiculously small number of individuals, mostly those who can afford “private” payments for these services.

As I have blogged before – promoting obesity prevention (and hoping for these to kick in) should not be an excuse to deny obesity treatments to those already affected by this condition.

Edmonton, Alberta

p.s. incidentally, my blog is now also available in German

Image Rainer Zenz