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European obesity

Latest EU obesity figures released

UK and Malta lead Europe in obesity and overweight rates
No consistent difference in obesity between women and men across Europe
Obesity rate falls as education level rises

At the recent IFSO-European Chapter meeting in Barcelona, Dr Vincenzo Borrelli, Humanitas Gavazzeni, Unit of Bariatric Surgery, Bergamo, Italy, and Monica Giuffrè and Giuseppe Marinari with Dr Dario Buono, from the European Commission (Eurostat, Quality Methodology and Research, Luxembourg), presented the most recent data on levels of obesity in European Union (2008/09). More specifically, they analysed differences among gender, age and educational level of citizens across the EU Member States on a harmonised basis. 

Borrelli explained that the data were collected and analysed by Eurostat, the statistical office of the European Union, and are based on the European Health Interview Survey (EHIS). Among the 19 Member States (for which data are available) the proportion of obese people in the adult population varied in 2008/9 between 8.0% and 23.9% for women and between 7.6% and 24.7% for men.


For both women and men aged 18 years and over, the lowest shares of obesity in 2008/09 were observed in Romania (8.0 % for women and 7.6 % for men), Italy (9.3 % and 11.3 %), Bulgaria (11.3 % and 11.6 %) and France (12.7 % and 11.7 %). The highest proportions of obese women were recorded in the United Kingdom (23.9 %), Malta (21.1 %), Latvia (20.9 %) and Estonia (20.5 % in 2006), and of men in Malta (24.7 %), the United Kingdom (22.1 %), Hungary (21.4 %) and the Czech Republic (18.4 %).

However, the researchers noted no systematic difference in obesity between women and men: the proportion was higher for women in eight Member States, higher for men in ten and equal in one. 


The data shows that for women there is a clear pattern in all the member states that the older the age group (65-74), the higher share of obese persons. The largest differences between the youngest and oldest age groups of women were observed in Latvia, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Estonia. For the two youngest age groups (18-24 and 25-44), the percentage of obese women in the UK is particularly notable. 

For men, in 12 of the 19 Member States, the highest share of obesity was recorded for the age group 65-74, while in the remaining seven member states, the highest share was registered for the age group 45-64. The largest differences between age groups for men were found in the UK, Hungary, Malta and Greece. For the age group 25-44 in Malta and 45-64 in the UK, the percentage of obese men is particularly significant.


The investigators noted that the proportion of women who are obese falls as the educational level rises in all member states. “The largest differences in obesity between women with a low educational level and those with a high educational level were observed in Slovakia, Malta, Poland and Greece,” said Borrelli. “The largest differences in obesity between women with a low educational level and those with a high educational level were observed in Slovakia, Malta, Poland and Greece.”

However for men, the educational levels in relation to levels of obesity were less pronounced. In 11 of the member states, the highest share of obesity was observed for those with a low educational level. In five Member States for those with a medium educational level while in Bulgaria and Estonia it was for those with a high educational level.

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