A Heavy Future Across the Pond

Obesity rates in European countries projected to rise by 2030

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) The US has long been a central focus of the obesity epidemic, but new data suggests that unless something is done, European nations could soon be experiencing an issue of the same weight.

A new study projected that European nations might see a major rise in obesity by 2030.

“Our study presents a worrying picture of rising obesity across Europe. Policies to reverse this trend are urgently needed," said study author Laura Webber, PhD, of the UK Health Forum (UKHF) in London, in a press release.

Rusty Gregory, a personal trainer and wellness coach in Austin, TX, offered some ideas that could fight obesity.

"The obesity epidemic and most chronic diseases would be greatly reduced, if not eliminated, if we removed processed foods ..." Gregory told dailyRx News.

Gregory continued, "Adhering to a diet full of nutrient-dense, real food reduces insulin spikes and inflammation in the body. This lowers the chance of obesity and disease, respectively."

Exercise can also help, Gregory said, but it can't replace a good diet.

"A regular exercise program consisting of resistance training and cardiovascular conditioning can go a long way in generating good health, but it doesn't undo an unhealthy diet. Also, exercise tends to increase appetite, making the food that you eat that much more important."

Dr. Webber conducted this study with Joao Breda, PhD, of the World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Office for Europe in Copenhagen, Denmark.

To project obesity trends in Europe, these researchers used WHO obesity data for the years 2010 and 2014 and computer models to project how the situation may look for 53 European countries by 2030.

These researchers used body mass index (BMI) to measure healthy weight. BMI is a measure of body fat based on height and weight. A BMI over 25 was considered overweight. A BMI over 30 was considered obese.

Drs. Breda and Webber found that 2030 projections for obesity across Europe did not look promising, including in Ireland, the UK, Greece, Spain, Sweden, Austria and the Czech Republic.

For instance, by 2030, nearly all Irish adults were projected to be overweight — 91 percent of men and 83 percent of women.

And while just over a quarter (26 percent) of UK women were found to be obese in 2010, this new data suggested that this might increase to 33 percent by 2030, Drs. Webber and Breda found. For men, the obesity rates were expected to increase from 26 percent to 36 percent.

Greece was another nation projected to see a big increase, with rates potentially doubling, Drs. Breda and Webber found. The obesity rate in Greek men was projected to increase from 20 percent in 2010 to 44 percent in 2030. For women, rates were projected to increase from 20 percent to 40 percent in the same time frame.

These projections could place European countries in a position similar to the one the US finds itself in today. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 34.9 percent of US adults are obese. In 2008, obesity cost the US an estimated $147 billion in medical care costs.

Only a few countries, such as the Netherlands, were projected to have stable or decreasing numbers of overweight adults from 2010 to 2030.

These findings were projections — sometimes based on insufficient data — and further research is needed, Drs. Breda and Webber noted.

"The study should be used with some caution as it was relatively small and was based on nationally available data that may not reflect the latest WHO estimates which are under further development," Dr. Breda said in a WHO clarification statement.

However, these researchers also stressed the importance of these findings as motivation to act.

"Action taken today can prevent these predictions from becoming reality and in some European countries the trend is already flattening off thanks to preventative measures including successes, for example, in the area of childhood obesity," Dr. Breda said.

Dr. Webber called for continued government action to address obesity.

"Although there is no ‘silver bullet’ for tackling the epidemic, governments must do more to restrict unhealthy food marketing and make healthy food more affordable," Dr. Webber said.

This study was presented May 6 at the European Congress on Obesity in Prague. Studies presented at conferences may not have been peer-reviewed.

Drs. Webber and Breda disclosed no funding sources or conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
May 6, 2015
Last Updated:
May 12, 2015