Too thick? People who are overweight are often accused of lacking discipline when it comes to exercise and nutrition. But diets are not always the solution. Why so many Germans are obese – and what we can do about it.

It is the main cause of lost years of healthy life: Obesity. The widespread disease affects millions of German adults, is by no means a phenomenon of prosperity and does not stop at children. Experts, such as those of the World Health Organization or the German Obesity Society (DAG) speak of an “epidemic”, of “one of the greatest threats to public health”. Why obesity is so dangerous, why it affects so many – and how we can counteract it.

Obesity is a lot more than a few extra pounds on your hips. The DAG defines it as a chronic disease, as “an increase in body fat that goes beyond normal levels.” This is classified using the body mass index (BMI).

The body mass index (BMI) is suitable for estimating the body fat percentage. For the calculation, body weight is set in relation to body height. The BMI is calculated from the quotient of body weight and height squared (kg/m). It is the assessment basis for the weight classification:

You can calculate your BMI at the German Obesity Society, for example.

What makes the disease dangerous is that it is itself “a cause of the development of serious secondary diseases such as heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and at least 13 different types of cancer,” as DAG CEO Hans Hauner explains. According to the study, overweight and obesity are the leading cause of healthy years of life lost to disease in Europe: 13 percent of deaths are due to a high BMI. People with obesity also have

than people of normal weight.

In addition, obesity causes an estimated 63 billion euros in economic costs in Germany – about half of which is direct (due to health and treatment costs) and half indirectly (due to lost work or early retirement).

The DAG gives the following figures for Germany:

From the adults are

Of the children and young people are

In addition, at the end of 2022, a small inquiry by the Union in the Bundestag revealed that around 13 million adults nationwide suffer from obesity.

“The main reason for the increase in obesity is the changed living conditions, which have an effect on a genetic predisposition,” according to the DAG. In terms of evolutionary biology, the human body is designed to build up fat reserves. But in today’s living environment, for the first time, high-calorie foods and drinks are available in excess at any time and without great effort or energy consumption. We moved accordingly in an “obesity-promoting environment”.

And there is another reason: the corona pandemic. This has exacerbated the obesity epidemic even further: every third adult and every sixth child reported unhealthy weight gain – people with a high starting weight and low household income are particularly affected.

This lifestyle does not only affect us – obesity can also be inherited to a certain extent. More and more studies show that the eating behavior of parents affects that of children. Diseases such as diabetes and obesity are passed on, for example via the mode of action of certain gene sequences.

There is good news: the obesity epidemic is reversible. According to WHO experts, however, various measures are necessary for this. For Europe, they recommend four immediate measures in particular:

This includes, for example, a sugar tax for soft drinks or subsidies for fruit and vegetables. The latter has already been considered by Minister of Agriculture Cem Özdemir: He proposes to “zero” VAT on fruit and vegetables in order to make them cheaper.

Here, too, the first steps have already been taken. For example, the discounter Lidl announced in early January that it would no longer advertise unhealthy baby food. The low-cost provider announced that from the coming financial year, which begins on March 1 at Lidl, it will no longer advertise unhealthy foods aimed at children – such as sugary yoghurts or drinks, but also chocolate. There should only be exceptions for promotional items for Christmas, Easter or Halloween – for example for chocolate Santa Clauses or Easter bunnies.

Experts welcome this proposal. “This is an important signal and a step that others should follow. Advertising has been shown to influence the eating behavior of children and young people and must therefore be restricted,” said Carola Reimann, Chairwoman of the AOK Federal Association.

Eating behavior in childhood shapes your whole life. For this reason, the German Society for Nutrition developed quality standards for day care centers and schools at the end of 2022. These include lots of fresh vegetables and fruit as well as lots of whole grains and dairy products, little meat, sugar and unhealthy fats. The catch, however, is that they are voluntary. Only daycare centers, schools and caterers that are certified by the DGE have to comply with the standards. Status October 2022 So far, there were just 690 day care centers and 593 schools nationwide. Overall, however, there are over 60,000 day-care centers and over 30,000 schools. So there is still a need for action here. After all, five federal states – Berlin, Bremen, Hamburg, Saarland, Thuringia – have now established that schools must follow the recommendations of the DGE.

“People need more support so that they can eat healthier,” says AOK board member Reimann. This was also the result of a family study by the health insurance company. Accordingly, many parents feel overwhelmed with a healthy and environmentally friendly diet and do not know how to get the relevant information.

Access to information on the treatment of obesity is similarly difficult. Therapy often begins too late, and those affected feel underserved. According to experts, individual nutrition plans are decisive. For example, if the predisposition to obesity was inherited. But mental illnesses must also be clarified. Likewise, whether the disease can be defeated with a diet and more exercise alone – or whether a surgical intervention is necessary.

When a stomach operation is possible and sensible depends on the BMI. You can find out which values ​​are relevant here. .

In addition, those who are particularly overweight should approach sport and exercise slowly in order to avoid injuries, for example. In an interview with FOCUS online, fitness expert Ingo Froboese reveals how you should then train.