June 27, 2014
According to WHO, obesity is one of the greatest public health challenges of the 21st century. Ever since the 1980s, the number of obese people in the WHO European Regions has been on the rise, and increasing at an alarmingly fast rate.
Excess weight causes various physical disabilities and has its fair share in the development of diseases like cancer, cardiovascular and diabetes – all of which directly impact health budgets of European countries. In the following, we present the current rates of obesity in Europe, the countries for which it’s a serious challenge and what measures are taken to cut down the obesity rate on the continent.
Obesity in Europe – Facts
Obesity is a disease spread throughout all age groups, genders and economic circles. Dr Christopher Murray, the director of the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) in Seattle and co-founder of the Global Burden of Disease study says: “In the last three decades, not one country has achieved success in reducing obesity rates, and we expect obesity to rise steadily as incomes rise in low- and middle-income countries in particular, unless urgent steps are taken to address this public health crisis.” (Source: telegraph.co.uk/health/healthnews/10860902/Obesity-among-British-girls-highest-in-western-Europe.html).
The statistics presented by WHO speak for themselves – over 50% of people living in Europe suffer from obesity or are overweight. The gender breakdown of this figure is slightly more favorable to men – only 20% of them are obese, as opposed to women, of whom almost a quarter (23%) suffers from the disease.
It’s worth to note that obesity and overweight should be treated separately – the former is a condition that can have serious impact on our health. WHO reports that in the European Union, overweight affects from 30 to 70% of adults and obesity from 10 to 30% of them. (Source: euro.who.int/en/health-topics/noncommunicable-diseases/obesity/data-and-statistics).
Obesity Across European Countries
That’s all very general, but which populations particularly suffer from obesity? The OECD Health at a Glance report features the most recent data on the rise of obesity in Europe. Even though the slight variations across countries might result from different methodologies in data collection, the fact stands – while countries like Romania or Switzerland have only around 8% of their population struggle with obesity, UK and Hungary have to deal a striking figure of 26%.
In general, countries like Italy, Norway, Netherlands, Bulgaria, Austria, France, Sweden, Belgium and Denmark can be proud of their nations – in all these countries, people who suffer from obesity make up for no more than 15% of the country’s population. Germany, Portugal and Finland are on the edge – their obesity rate is around 15-16%.
The obesity rate of 17% was noted in Poland, Cyprus, Spain, Slovenia, Estonia, Slovak Republic and Greece. Countries that made it to the very end of the list are Malta, Iceland, Luxembourg, Lithuania, Ireland and the two countries we mentioned earlier, the UK and Hungary. In all those nations, the obesity rate is more than 20%.
Out of all the above, we clearly need to distinguish between countries with regular populations sizes and small nations like Iceland or Malta, where the obesity marker is likely to change due to that reason.
What about gender? In some countries, such as Malta, Iceland and Norway, more men are obese than women. The contrary was noted in countries like Latvia, Turkey and Hungary. The largest disparity was found in Latvia – the obesity rate for women is 20.9% in contrast with only 12% for men. Greece, Check Republic and the UK are characterized by little differences between the obesity rates of men and women. (Source: OECD Library).
Obesity in Europe – Possible Solutions
The statistical data accompanying the OECD report shows that in many European countries over the last 20 years the rate of obesity has doubled. This is a very fast paced change that affects the general health of the population and the costs countries must allocate in delivering proper treatment to those struck by obesity-related diseases.
Apart from treating the effects of obesity by specialized weight loss programs and targeted treatments, European countries must realize that the real change can only be achieved by tapping the problem at its root. Education is one potential solution – a study showed that the most-educated sections of those populations had lowest obesity rates.
A number of studies have suggested that obesity might be more common in disadvantaged socio-economic groups, a fact that holds true especially in the case of women. This has been linked, for instance, to scarce fruit consumption in low affluence families.
Physical activity can have a great influence on the obesity rates as well – WHO estimates that over 35% of Europeans are not enough physically active. Education, good eating habits, improving the population’s economic conditions and promoting physical exercise are all potential ways to deal with the rapid increase of obesity.
WHO also offers a set of recommendations for treating obesity on a national level, all of which suggest coordinated partnerships that would involve different government sectors, communities, the mass media and the private sector to make sure that the habits of entire populations can be changed effectively.