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Overweight and obesity - BMI statistics

From Statistics Explained

Data from November 2011, most recent data: Further Eurostat information, Main tables and Database.

This article presents recent statistics on overweight and obesity in the European Union (EU). Weight problems and obesity are increasing at an alarming rate: over the last decade the proportion of the population that is overweight has increased considerably in most Member States, resulting in more than half the EU population being overweight or obese.

Obesity is a serious public health problem, as it significantly increases the risk of chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, type-2 diabetes, hypertension, coronary-heart diseases and certain cancers. For individuals, psychological problems associated with obesity are common, wide-ranging and potentially serious. For society, obesity has substantial direct and indirect costs that put a strain on healthcare and social resources.

Figure 1: Overweight and obesity - women, 2008 (%) - Source: Eurostat (hlth_ehis_de1)

Main statistical findings 

Figure 2: Overweight and obesity - men, 2008 (%) - Source: Eurostat (hlth_ehis_de1)
Figure 3: Overweight + obesity - women - by age (%) - Source: Eurostat (hlth_ehis_de1)
Figure 4: Overweight + obesity - men - by age (%) - Source: Eurostat (hlth_ehis_de1)
Figure 5: Overweight + obesity - women (%) - by educational level - Source: Eurostat (hlth_ehis_de1)
Figure 6: Overweight + obesity - men (%) - by educational level - Source: Eurostat (hlth_ehis_de1)

Among the 19 Member States for which data are available, the proportion of overweight and obese people in the adult population varied in 2008/09 between 36.9 % and 56.7 % for women and between 51 % and 69.3 % for men.

For both women and men aged 18 years and over, the lowest shares of obesity in 2008/09 were observed in Romania (8.0 % for women and 7.6 % for men), Italy (9.3 % and 11.3 %), Bulgaria (11.3 % and 11.6 %) and France (12.7 % and 11.7 %). The highest proportions of obese women were recorded in the United Kingdom (23.9 %), Malta (21.1 %), Latvia (20.9 %) and Estonia (20.5 % in 2006), and of men in Malta (24.7 %), the United Kingdom (22.1 %), Hungary (21.4 %) and the Czech Republic (18.4 %).

There is no systematic difference in obesity between women and men across the Member States available. The proportion of obesity was higher for women in eight Member States, higher for men in ten and equal in one. However, for overweight there is a clear gender difference: in all Member States available the proportion of overweight men is much higher then for women (differences from 8.5 % in Hungary to 18.2 % in Slovenia).

The share of overweight and obese persons increases with age. The average difference between the youngest and oldest age groups is for men around 44 % and for women around 53 %. For women there is a clear pattern in all the Member States available: the older the age group, the higher the share of overweight and obese persons. For men, the pattern is a little different: increase of overweight and obesity is systematic till 65. For the age group 65-74 the picture is less uniform: For seven of the Member States available the highest share of overweight and obese men was recorded for the age group 65-74.

The share of overweight and obese persons tends to fall with educational level. For women, the pattern is clear in all Member States available: the proportion of women who are obese or overweight falls as the educational level rises. For women the differences between lower and upper education level vary between 12.8 and 36.7 %. For men, the pattern is again slightly different. Differences are smaller and the distribution is different: in 8 of the available Member States, the highest share of overweight and obese men is observed for those with the lowest educational level, in six Member States for those with a medium educational level while in 4 countries it is for those with a high educational level.

Data sources and availability

Health interview surveys (HIS) are the source of information for describing the health status and the health-related behaviours of the European population. The European health interview survey (EHIS) aims at measuring on a harmonised basis and with a high degree of comparability among Memeber States the health status, life style (health determinants) and health care services use of EU citizens. The first wave of the EHIS was implemented during the period 2006-2009 under a gentlemen's agreement but with a strong incentive of harmonisation and comparability via an agreed questionnaire and guidelines; 17 Member States participated. The data for Italy and United Kingdom in this article come from the Aspects of daily living survey 2009, respectively the Health Survey for England - HSE 2009.

The body mass index (BMI) is a measure of a person’s weight relative to their height that correlates fairly well with body fat. The BMI is accepted as the most useful measure of obesity for adults when only weight and height data are available. It is calculated as the result of dividing body weight (in kilograms) by body height (in metres) squared.

The following subdivision (according to the international obesity taskforce - IOTF) is used:

  • less than 18.5: underweight; 
  • between 18,5 and less than 25: normal weight; 
  • between 25 and less than 30: overweight; 
  • equal or greater than 30: obese.

The groups of educational level attained are defined according the International standard classification of education (ISCED), version of 1997:

  • low level of education refers to pre-primary, primary and lower secondary education (ISCED level 0-2);
  • medium level to upper secondary and post-secondary non-tertiary education (ISCED level 3-4);
  • high level to tertiary education (ISCED level 5-6).

Context

Maintaining a ‘normal weight’ can be a challenging exercise, given the abundance of energy-rich foods and lifestyle pressures that reduce the opportunities for physical activity both at work and during leisure time. In Europe today, 6 of the 7 biggest risk factors for premature death – blood pressure, cholesterol, overweight, inadequate fruit and vegetable intake, physical inactivity and alcohol abuse – relate to how we eat, drink and move. Rising overweight and obesity across Europe is particularly worrying. The European Commission advocates an integrated approach, involving stakeholders at local, regional, national and European levels (see the Commission's White Paper of May 2007 on a strategy on nutrition, overweight, and obesity-related health issues].

The European health interview survey measures not only the BMI; it also addresses the consumption of fruits and vegetables, the consumption of alcohol and practice of physical activities. The importance of those issues is reflected in the definition of corresponding health determinants indicators in the European Union community health indicators (ECHI). ECHI defines a list of 88 indicators for sustainable health monitoring in Europe. For those monitoring purposes Eurostat collaborates with Member States on the drafting of a Regulation to launch a second wave of the EHIS in 2014.

See also

Further Eurostat information

Database

Health determinants (hlth_det)
Body mass index (hlth_bmi)
Body mass index (BMI) by sex, age and educational attainment level (%) (hlth_ehis_de1)
Body mass index (BMI) by sex, age and income quintile (%) (hlth_ehis_de2)

Dedicated section

Health status and determinants

Methodology / Metadata

Source data for tables, figures and maps (MS Excel)

Other information

External links

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