Socioeconomic inequalities in health
Obesity is becoming a major problem in the Czech population. We are getting fatter and fatter, which is underlined by the comparison in the recently published World Atlas of Obesity. Almost 70% of adult men and 50% of women over 18 are currently overweight in the Czech Republic, while 22% of men and 18% of women are obese. According to Maika Ohno, a Japanese scientist at the SYRI National Institute, the problem is mainly due to dietary habits. We eat too few vegetables and consume too much sugar. Childhood obesity is of greatest concern.
"Obesity (BMI ≥ 30) is now considered a disease that is also a risk factor for many diseases, including type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome and fatty liver. This will definitely have an impact on the national health care system," said Ohno, whose SYRI research focuses on how the recent pandemic has affected our diets and food choices in relation to geo-social characteristics.
Of greatest concern is childhood obesity, which has long-term consequences and is accompanied by physical and psychological problems. "Similar to adult obesity, obese children are at a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, liver disease and more. Obesity also affects self-esteem and emotional well-being. Obese children are often bullied at school," Ohno said.
Moreover, the prognosis for how we will fare with weight is worsening in the coming years. According to the latest World Obesity Atlas 2023, the projected prevalence of obesity in adults by 2035 in the country is 35%, which is classified as high. It is estimated that approximately 40% of men will be obese, while just over 30% of women will be obese. Obesity among boys will rise to a full quarter of their population, while for girls it is expected to be less than 15%. "The gender gap in obesity is particularly large in the Czech Republic compared to other EU countries. The prevalence of obesity in men is generally higher than in women, but in the Czech Republic the difference is much greater," Ohno said.
Obesity is a multifactorial disease. This means that it is also caused by an interaction between environmental, lifestyle and genetic factors. Obesity is generally caused by an imbalance between total calorie intake and expenditure. Too much caloric intake and not enough exercise to burn the calories over time results in overweight leading to obesity. One of the main factors that affect our weight is diet. "Consuming large amounts of high-fat and high-sugar foods and drinking large amounts of sugary drinks and alcohol contribute to the development of obesity. The prevalence of obesity is higher in people with lower educational attainment and in lower socio-economic groups. The obesity epidemic is therefore a complex problem and obesity should be seen as a disease," said the researcher, who also offered a comparison with her home country, where the prevalence of obesity is low at around 5.5%.
"In terms of food consumption, our consumption of fish and vegetables is much higher than in the Czech Republic. In contrast, meat consumption in the Czech Republic is 1.6 times higher than in Japan. Alcohol consumption is also high in the Czech Republic, while in Japan people eat a lot of vegetables. So what should the Czechs change? "Limit foods high in sugar and fat in your diet. Include more vegetables, legumes and fruit in your diet. The WHO recommendation for daily sugar intake is only 25 g, which is 2 tablespoons. A can of regular cola (330 ml) contains 35 g of sugar! It is very easy to consume more than 25g of sugar a day. In Japan, we are taught from childhood to eat 30 different foods a day. How many foods do you eat a day? Beer doesn't count!" said Ohno.