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European obesity

Over half of European adults are overweight

13.5% of children in EU member states are overweight and obese

More than half (52%) of the adult population in the European Union are overweight and 17% are obese, according to a joint report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and the European Commission.

The report also states that 13.5% of children (15-year-olds) in EU member states are overweight and obese.

The second edition of “Health at a Glance: Europe 2012” also shows that the prevalence of overweight and obesity among adults exceeds 50% in 18 of 27 EU member states. Obesity, says the report, varies from country to country, from a low of around 8% in Romania and Switzerland) to over 25% in Hungary and the UK.

With regards to gender there is little overall difference between men and women (16.5% vs. 16.6) across Europe. However, there are some large variations in some countries where obesity rates are higher for women, such as Hungry (30.4% vs. 26.3%), Latvia (20.9% vs. 12%) and Turkey (21% vs. 13.2%).

Alarmingly, the rate of obesity has doubled over the past 20 years in several European countries. In 1990 the obesity rate in France was 5.8% and was reported as 12.9% in 2010. Obesity rates also doubled in Sweden, Spain, Denmark and Iceland.

However, there are also instances of the obesity rate falling with reductions reported between 2000-10 in Romania, Bulgaria, Lithuania and Malta.

The also reports states that there are a number of contributing behavioural and environmental factors that have led to the increases in overweight and obesity rates, including the widespread availability of energy dense foods and less time engaged in physical activity.

The report, which includes figures up to 2010, highlights that some countries (Denmark, Finland, France and Hungary) are using taxes on foods rich in fat and sugar to change eating habits, although it is too early to say whether these recent changes will have any significant impact.

Adult obesity rates in European countries, 1990, 2000 and 2010 (or nearest years). Source: Health at a Glance: Europe 2012


The publication also showed that boys have a high rate of overweight and obesity, compared with girls (17% vs. 10%). Boys were reported to have higher overweight and obesity rates in all the member states.

In several cases (Greece, Switzerland, Italy, Romania, Slovak Republic, Sweden, Iceland and Croatia) the rates were more than double for the boys compared with the girls, and in Macedonia the rate for boys was more than triple the figure for the girls.

The country with the highest rate of children who are overweight or obese is Greece (28%), followed by Slovenia and Croatia (23% each).

Only four countries (Netherlands, Denmark, Lithuania and Estonia) reported a rate of overweight or obesity of less than 10% in children.

The report also published data showing changes reported in the rates from 2001-02, 2005-06 and 2009-10. Average reported rates of overweight and obesity across the EU increased between 2001-02 and 2009-10 from 11% to 13% of 15-year-olds.

Despite several countries showing a decline from the years 2005-06 and 2009-10 and 2001-02 and 2009-10, only Denmark demonstrated a decline in the rates from all the reported years.

The largest increases during the eight year period were found in the Czech Republic, Estonia, Poland, Romania and Slovenia, all greater than 5%.

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