Europe’s overweight and obesity rates are at “epidemic proportions” and still expanding, according to the World Health Organization.

Fifty-nine per cent of adults and almost one in three children in the region are overweight or living with obesity, the WHO reported.

In a study on the weight of European citizens, the organisation said those affected have been “disproportionately” hit by the consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic. The WHO pointed to “unfavourable shifts” in food consumption and in patterns of physical activity during the pandemic “that will have effects on population health in the years ahead and will need significant effort to reverse”.

It said obesity “is considered a cause of at least 13 different types of cancer and is likely to be directly responsible for at least 200 000 new cancer cases annually across the region”.

The prevalence of obesity among adults is higher in Europe than in all regions bar the Americas, the WHO noted.

“The countries in our region are incredibly diverse but every one is challenged to some degree,” Dr Hans Henri Kluge, the WHO’s regional director for Europe, said.

Turkey topped the list when the organisation measured European countries’ overweight and obese adults, followed by Malta, Israel and the UK.

The WHO said the reasons for obesity are “complex, with multifaceted determinants and health consequences, which means that no single intervention can halt the rise of the growing epidemic”.

However, its report outlines how “policy interventions that target environmental and commercial determinants of poor diet at the entire population level are likely to be most effective at reversing the obesity epidemic, addressing dietary inequalities and achieving environmentally sustainable food systems”.

It pointed to specific policies that “show promise in reducing levels of obesity and overweight” – including fiscal moves such as sugar taxes and restrictions on the marketing of unhealthy foods to children.