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26th May 2019

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WHO: Europeans 'alarmingly' obese

  • 58.6 percent of Europeans are overweight, and 23 percent suffer from obesity. (Photo: Steve Baker)

Europeans are becoming "alarmingly" overweight and obese, the World Health Organization (WHO) has said in a report published Wednesday (23 September).

The United Nations health agency estimated that in the past four years, more Europeans have become overweight and obese, with 58.6 percent of Europeans overweight, and 23 percent suffering from obesity.

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  • Click on image for obesity and overweight figures per country (Photo: World Health Organization)

One is overweight when he or she has a body mass index (BMI) of 25 or higher. With a BMI of 30 or higher, one is considered obese.

The organisation estimated that in most European countries overweight and obesity is on the rise, although they noted that "regular country-reported data on overweight and obesity are lacking at the regional level".The European Health Report is a triennial publication by the WHO regional office for Europe, and covers 53 countries.

It noted that obesity is "one of the greatest public health challenges of the 21st century", which "drastically increases a person's risk of developing several [diseases], including cardiovascular diseases, cancer and diabetes mellitus".

The WHO is also worried about Europe's alcohol consumption and smoking habits.

Between 2005 and 2010, total alcohol consumption decreased by 10 percent in Europe, but Europe still had the highest rate in the world.

Europe is the region with the highest prevalence of alcohol dependence (4 percent) and the highest prevalence of alcohol-use disorders (7 percent).

The range of alcohol consumption levels vary greatly, the report noted, ranging from 0.32 to 14.37 litres per capita annually.

Many EU states have alcohol consumption averages of between 9 and 12 litres per capita. Rates are lower in Turkey and former Soviet states, possibly because of a higher number of Muslims living there.

The UN body noted that tobacco use is decreasing, but most countries are set to fall short of their targets of a 30 percent reduction of tobacco use by 2025.

Russia, Georgia, and Greece have the highest percentage of male smokers (over 50 percent of adults), while female smokers can mostly be found in Croatia, Bulgaria, Germany, Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as Greece (over 30 percent).

Life expectancy for Europeans has increased from an average of 73.2 years in 1990 to 76.8 years in 2011.

But WHO's regional director for Europe told the Guardian Wednesday that life expectancy may drop again.

"There is a very real risk that these gains will be lost if smoking and alcohol consumption continue at the current rate. This is especially relevant to young people, who may not live as long as their grandparents", said Zsuzsanna Jakab.

Warning over Europe's sugar-guzzling habits

Europeans get through a huge amount of sugary drinks, causing serious risks to their health, a study backed by anti-obesity campaigners suggests. But southern Europe has seen a marked decline in consumption.

Malta, Latvia, and Hungary top EU obesity charts

Age and poor education factor into high obesity rates, according to the EU's statistical office Eurostat. On Thursday, it released figures showing Malta is the most obese country, relative to other EU states.

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Civil society steps in to fight rising obesity

By 2030, it is estimated that more than 50 percent of Europeans will be obese. With a lack of public policies and coherent strategies, civil society is often the one trying to find a solution.

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