Obesity continues to increase in Europe

Obesity continues to increase in Europe

Overweight and obesity is increasing in the EU with 53% of adults in the EU now either overweight or obese, according to the third edition of ‘Health at a Glance: Europe 2014’ report. There are considerable variations between countries, the report states. For example, the prevalence of overweight and obesity among adults exceeds 50% in no less than 17 of EU member states. Obesity varies threefold among countries, from a low of around 8% in Romania to 25% or over in Hungary and the UK, although some of the variations across countries are due to different methodologies in data collection.

Obesity has grown fairly quickly over the past ten years in countries like France, Luxembourg, some Nordic countries (Denmark, Finland, as well as Iceland), and the Czech Republic. It has grown more moderately in other countries such as Italy, Sweden, Belgium, Norway and Switzerland. In the UK, the obesity rate has increased moderately over the past decade, although it remains the second highest among EU countries.

On average across EU member states, one in six adult (16.7%) was obese around the year 2012, an increase from one in eight a decade ago.

There is little difference in obesity rate among men and women on average across EU countries . However, there are notable differences in certain countries. Obesity among men is much greater in countries such as Slovenia, Luxembourg and Malta, whereas the opposite is true in Latvia, Hungary and Turkey where the obesity rate is much higher among women.

The rise in obesity has affected all population groups, but to different extents. Evidence from a range of OECD countries indicates that obesity tends to be more common in disadvantaged socio-economic groups, especially among women. There is also a relationship between the number of years of education and obesity, with the most educated people having lower rates. Again, the gradient in obesity is stronger in women than in men.

A number of behavioural and environmental factors have contributed to the long-term rise in overweight and obesity rates in industrialised countries, including the widespread availability of energy dense foods and more time spent being physically inactive. The economic crisis is also likely to have contributed to further growth in obesity.

Evidence from Germany, Finland and the United Kingdom shows a link between financial distress and obesity. Regardless of their income or wealth, people who experience periods of financial hardship are at an increased risk of obesity, and the increase is greater for more severe and recurrent hardship.