Most recent update: Tuesday, September 17, 2019 - 16:32

Bariatric News - Cookies & privacy policy

You are here

Spotlight on Europe

EurObesity

Bariatric News reports on the state of bariatric care in Europe, finding doctors battling a troubling epidemic with sophisticated use of public data.

A report from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) entitled ‘Health at a Glance: Europe 2010,’ which reports more than half of the total adult population across the European Union are now overweight or obese. In addition, the prevalence of obesity varies from less than 10% in Romania, Switzerland and Italy to over 20% in the United Kingdom, Ireland, Malta and Iceland. On average across EU countries, 15.5% of the adult population is obese. According to the report obesity in Europe has more than doubled over the past 20 years in most EU countries for which data are available. The rapid increase occurred regardless of what the levels of obesity were two decades ago. Obesity more than doubled in both the Netherlands and the United Kingdom between 1988 and 2008, even though the rate in the Netherlands is currently less than half that of the United Kingdom. European Commissioner for Health and Consumer Policy, John Dalli, said, "In order to reverse the growing trend in obesity and other health problems in the EU we need reliable and up-to-date data to underpin the action we take as policymakers."

European overview

Experts who looked at the health of 31 European countries (27 EU Member States, plus the three European Free Trade Association countries; Iceland, Norway and Switzerland; and Turkey) reported that that the number of obese Britons has more than doubled in the last 20 years. While the average obesity rate in the EU is 15.5 per cent, Britain tops the league with 24.5 per cent of the adult population being classified as obese. Ireland is next, with 23 per cent. Although some countries, such as Italy and Romania, maintain rates of less than 10 per cent. There is no evidence that the current increase in overweight/obesity prevalence is set to stop or slow down, the report states. In addition, the report explains that physical activity among European children tends to drop significantly between the ages of 11 and 15 years. Only 20% of children exercise regularly.

“Currently, obesity-related illnesses are estimated to account for as much as 7% of total healthcare costs in the EU.”

Although the EU obesity average of 15.5% is still far behind the USA, which is well over 30%, the report underlines that the rate of obesity has more than doubled over the past 20 years in most EU countries for which data are available, and these rapid increases occurred regardless of the levels of obesity two decades ago.

As obesity is associated with higher risks of chronic illness, such as cardiovascular disease, increases in obesity levels and being overweight have considerable implications on health, health systems and the wider economy, the reported stressed. Currently, obesity-related illnesses are estimated to account for as much as 7% of total healthcare costs in the EU.

Children

The report states that one in seven children in the EU is overweight or obese and the figures are predicted to rise even further. Only one in five children in the EU exercise regularly, with the rates of physical activity falling between the ages of 11 and 15 in most EU member states. Children who are overweight or obese are also at greater risk of poor health in adolescence and in adulthood.

Being overweight in childhood increases the risk of developing cardiovascular disease or diabetes, as well as related social and mental health problems. Excess weight problems in childhood are associated with an increased risk of being an obese adult, at which point certain forms of cancer, osteoarthritis, a reduced quality of life and premature death can be added to the list of health concerns (OEC D, 2010c; Currie et al., 2008).

Evidence suggests that even if excess childhood weight is lost, adults who were obese children retain an increased risk of cardiovascular problems, and although dieting can combat obesity, children who diet are at a greater risk of putting on weight following periods of dieting.

20% Percentage of children in southern European countries who are overweight or obese

Aggregate figures for 2005-06 show that nearly one in five children in southern European countries (Malta, Greece, Portugal, Italy and Spain), are overweight or obese. Fewer than one in ten children in selected eastern European countries (Lithuania, Latvia, the Slovak Republic and Estonia) as well as in the Netherlands, Switzerland and Denmark are overweight or obese.

The report states that there is no clear association between weight problems and weight reduction behaviours at the national level. In most countries, the number of children who say that they are trying to lose weight is greater than the number with excess weight problems.

Countries where few children report excess weight problems also report weight reduction behaviours close to the EU average. Many of the countries with the highest rates of overweight and obese children have similar levels of weight reduction behaviour (about 13%).

There are significant differences among children with excess weight problems, according to their age. For example, in some countries older children have more excess weight than younger children. In other countries the opposite is true (The Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Iceland and Switzerland, report increases in overweight and obesity rates for both boys and girls as children get older).

Rates of overweight and obesity among boys and girls are increasing across the European Union (Table 1). Average reported rates of overweight and obesity increased between 2001-02 and 2005-06 from 12% to 16% for 15-year-old boys, and from 7% to 9% for girls. Between 2001-02 and 2005-06, every surveyed country reported an increase in overweight or obesity for boys aged 15. The largest increases during the four year period were found in Austria, Lithuania and Poland.

A similar pattern of increases is seen for girls, with rates in Portugal and Germany almost doubling. Table 1: Change in obesity rates between 2001- 02 and 2005-06, for 15 year-old boys and girls Only Ireland, Norway and the United Kingdom reported reductions in the proportion of overweight or obese girls at age 15 between 2001-02 and 2005-06 (because non-response rates to questions of self-reported height and weight were high in these countries, the authors noted that a cautious interpretation is required).

Adults

The growth in overweight and obesity rates among adults is a major public health concern. More than half (50.1%) of the adult population in the European Union are overweight or obese. The prevalence of overweight and obesity among adults exceeds 50% in 15 of 27 EU countries. In contrast, overweight and obesity rates are much lower in France, Italy and Switzerland, although rates are also increasing in these countries.

There is little difference in the average obesity rate of men and women in the European Union, with both at around 15% (Table 2). However, there is some variation among individual countries, with men generally being more obese than women in Norway, Malta and Italy, whereas women are more obese in Latvia, Turkey and the Netherlands.

The largest disparities in obesity between men and women were in Latvia, whereas there was little, if any difference in male and female obesity rates in the Czech Republic, Poland and Sweden. The rate of obesity has more than doubled over the past 20 years in most EU countries for which data are available. The rapid increase occurred regardless of what the levels of obesity were two decades ago (Table 3). Obesity more than doubled in both the Netherlands and the United Kingdom between 1988 and 2008, even though the rate in the Netherlands is currently less than half that of the United Kingdom.

In most countries the rise in obesity has affected all population groups regardless of sex, age, race, income or education level, but to varying extents. Evidence from a number of countries, including Austria, England, France, Italy and Spain, indicates that obesity tends to be more common among individuals in disadvantaged socio-economic groups, with this relationship being particularly strong among women (Sassi et al., 2009b). There is also a relationship between the number of years spent in full-time education and obesity, with the most educated individuals displaying lower rates, with the gradient in obesity is stronger in women than in men (OEC D, 2010c).