Obesity in Portugal: Perspectives and Challenges

Obesity is an epidemic and public health concern, defined by the WHO, the Obesity Society, and others as a disease. It is not just a support for major chronic diseases but a hardly debilitating situation in its own right.

Obesity in Portugal

People who are pre-obese or obese have a higher risk of developing more than 200 chronic diseases. That includes diabetes, heart disease, gallstones, asthma, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and arthritis, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, osteoarthritis, and some cancers associated with premature mortality and reduced healthy life years.

The high prevalence of obesity in Portugal requires intervention, including treatment, but mainly prevention, starting at younger ages, and acting, not only to combat the problem, by promoting healthy lifestyles, improving eating habits, reducing sedentary lifestyles, and encouraging physical activity.

Despite numerous information campaigns, unfortunately, the fight against obesity still seems to have a long way to go since, in recent years, the prevalence has continued to increase. The rapid and progressive increase in the incidence of obesity, which has characterized the most economically strong countries in the last ten years, has been the primary stimulus for research into the mechanisms underlying this pathology and related disorders.

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More Than Half Of Portuguese Population Is Overweight Or Obese In 2022

In Portugal, almost half the population is overweight, and nearly one million adults suffer from obesity.

These worrying numbers are, among other causes, linked to more sedentary lifestyles and the transformation of eating habits over the past decades. Increased consumption of refined carbs and saturated fats has decreased people’s intake of healthy foods like whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.

Considered by the WHO as an epidemic, obesity affects longevity and quality of life. Promoting diseases such as diabetes mellitus type II, hypertension or dyslipidemia, overweight, and obesity lead to a significant increase in cardiovascular risk. It is estimated, for example, that hypertension is 2.5 times more frequent in obese individuals than in people of average weight.

Obesity occurs when the number of calories ingested is higher than expended. When this happens, calories are stored in the body in fat mass, which can eventually affect all of one’s health.

Measures To Prevent And Combat Obesity

The essential rule is to keep the body’s caloric expenditure equal to or greater than the number of calories ingested.

  1. Follow the proportions recommended by the Food Wheel – Eat a balanced and varied diet, rich in vegetables, whole grains, fruit, and fish. Reduce foods containing sugar and saturated fats. They mainly produce industrially processed fats (hydrogenated), red meat, butter, and full-fat dairy products.
  1. Get to know your food and nutrients – When you eat a portion of food, try to know what nutrients it provides to your body. You don’t need to become a “calorie counter,” but it is essential to realize that certain foods are more caloric than others. In particular, learn to detect the hidden calories in industrially processed or pre-cooked foods (often in the form of invisible fats).
  1. Eat every 3 to 4 hours – By eating several times a day, you won’t be too hungry when you get to your next meal. Eat enough portions to feel satiated. Use the following trick: Start your main meals with a vegetable soup without potatoes. In addition to containing water, many vitamins, and minerals, it helps satiate the feeling of hunger.
  1. Keep a regular physical activity – Choose a light activity that you may enjoy and include it in your routine, preferably daily. Regularity is important. Whenever possible, walk when you get around and favor contact with nature with short walks or hikes in the open air.
  1. Lose fat and maintain a healthy weight – Many people manage to lose weight in record time. However, the most common thing is that these “crash diets” result, soon after, in the opposite: weight regain, often accompanied by a more significant increase than the original weight.

If you are overweight, try to accompany a doctor or nutritionist and set reasonable dietary goals. Cycling is a low-impact aerobic exercise that is an effective way to lose weight. It’s also a great way to get in shape and improve your cardiovascular health.

Excess weight is a significant health concern that can lead to serious medical complications. It has been found that extra weight can lead to heart disease, diabetes, and other life-threatening conditions.

There are many ways to get rid of stubborn fat, such as dieting, exercising, and using supplements. However, these methods may not be effective for everyone, and some people may need more time than others to lose the excess weight.

This article talks about how cycling can help you lose weight, mentioning other benefits like enhancing cardiovascular health

Overweight And Obesity Cost 1.2 Billion Euros Per Year In Portugal

Studies indicate that the annual direct cost of overweight and obesity is estimated to be around 1.2 billion euros, approximately 0.6% of GDP and 6% of health expenditures in Portugal.

53.6% of the country’s adult population is overweight, and the number has been rising in recent years. Obesity already affects 1.5 million Portuguese, and the Directorate General of Health (DGS) wants to create pre-obesity consultations in primary health care. Bad eating habits remain in the top 5 factors contributing most to the Portuguese’s loss of years of healthy life.

These data are part of the 2019 Global Burden Disease study and are presented for the first time in the annual report of the National Program for the Promotion of Healthy Eating (PNPAS), which is published today by DGS.

Childhood Obesity Decreases

In contrast to the adult population, childhood overweight and obesity is falling. From 2008 to 2019, there has been a 22% reduction in both the prevalence of childhood overweight (37.9% to 29.6%) and childhood obesity (15.3% to 12.0%). Some targets for 2020 have been met, and this is one of them. It is one of the most significant gains they have achieved in recent years.

For this, contributed public policies whose impact was analyzed in the report released today, namely the regulation of food advertising aimed at children under 16, the special tax on sugary drinks, and the reformulation of the food supply in school settings.

Loss Of Life Years

According to the Global Burden of Disease study, despite the gains, bad eating habits are still one of the five factors contributing to the loss of healthy life years in Portugal.

The high consumption of red meat and salt and the low consumption of whole grains, legumes, and fruit are the main errors in the Portuguese diet. And they are at the origin of many circulatory system diseases, diabetes, and kidney diseases.

Nutritional Screening In Hospitals

An order that came into effect last year determines that all hospitalized patients have to be nutritionally screened upon admission. The result was an increase in patients undergoing this screening, where nutritional risk is identified, and some are referred to nutrition services.

They already have about 68% of hospitals with screening implemented. And even the pandemic situation does not seem to have compromised this positive evolution. Malnutrition in hospital settings is a prevalent condition associated with worse outcomes, namely by extending hospital stays.

A Few Words About Other Countries

Bulgaria has one of the highest rates of overweight people in Europe. A study in 2016 found that about 60% of the population is overweight.

The study also found many health concerns for overweight people in Bulgaria. The most common are cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, cancer, and mental health because living with constant weight struggles can be challenging.

Romania’s average body fat percentage is 22.2% for women and 20.8% for men. This data is based on a study conducted by the National Institute of Statistics in Romania on a survey conducted on 10,000 people over 18 years old. The average body fat percentage for men over 18 years old ranges from 20% to 25%. The body fat percentages in Romania are generally higher than those in the US due to the lack of exercise and a high-calorie diet.

The German fitness industry is booming. The number of women in the country who are interested in fitness has increased by 15% in the last ten years. It is not surprising if you consider that the German culture has always been very health-conscious.

However, many women still don’t feel comfortable working out at these facilities because they’re surrounded by men who stare at them. More and more women are turning to private fitness studios where they can work out without feeling self-conscious or objectified.

Spain has been one of the most prosperous countries globally when it comes to weight loss. It has some of the best dieticians and nutritionists globally, but what is its secret?

A recent study found that Spain’s success can be attributed to its culture. The Mediterranean diet is a staple in Spanish households. The people are generally active, have little time to cook, and are surrounded by healthy food options at all times.

Obesity in Portugal: Epilogue

We noticed a modification in the Portuguese approach to healthy eating advertising with strategies focusing on excluding unhealthy diets. Along with these plans, there have been changes in the Portuguese guideline shift.

The focus on food and drink is significant but not the only way to tackle obesity. We need to consider other factors, such as reducing the time spent in front of screens, physical activity, and social support for people with mental health problems.

National food reformulation plans are used to change the nutritional content of specific foods. These plans usually revolve around one food category and involve the retailer sectors and food industry. A coregulation approach is often used to encourage voluntary reformulation of products by the industry. This action reduces the regulatory burden on the government, increases industry accountability, and maximizes consumer benefits at a minimum cost.

Portugal continues to do well in implementing the recommended policies suggested by the fao.org to oppose obesity and non-communicable diseases. However, they are still facing some challenges in changing food environments.