Overweight and obesity - BMI statistics

Data presented in this article refer to year 2008. A second wave of the European health interview survey (the source of these data) is being conducted in 2013–15 with a planned article update foreseen for December 2016.

This article presents statistics on the proportion of adults who are overweight or obese in the European Union (EU). Weight problems and obesity are increasing at a rapid rate in most of the EU Member States, with estimates suggesting that more than half of the EU’s population was overweight or obese in 2008.

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 specific individuals, obesity may further be linked to a wide range of psychological problems. For society as a whole, it has substantial direct and indirect costs that put a considerable strain on healthcare and social resources.

This article is one of a set of statistical articles concerning health determinants in the EU which forms part of an online publication on health statistics.

Figure 1: Proportion of women who were overweight or obese, 2008 or nearest year
(%)
Source: Eurostat (hlth_ehis_de1)
Figure 2: Proportion of men who were overweight or obese, 2008 or nearest year
(%)
Source: Eurostat (hlth_ehis_de1)
Figure 3: Proportion of women who were overweight or obese, by age, 2008 or nearest year (1)
(%)
Source: Eurostat (hlth_ehis_de1)
Figure 4: Proportion of men who were overweight or obese, by age, 2008 or nearest year (1)
(%)
Source: Eurostat (hlth_ehis_de1)
Figure 5: Proportion of women who were overweight or obese, by educational level, 2008 or nearest year (1)
(%)
Source: Eurostat (hlth_ehis_de1)
Figure 6: Proportion of men who were overweight or obese, by educational level, 2008 or nearest year (1)
(%)
Source: Eurostat (hlth_ehis_de1)


Main statistical findings

The data in this article are from the European health interview survey (EHIS) which was conducted between 2006 and 2010 and which covered persons aged 15 and over; the data concerning the proportion of adults who are overweight or obese was calculated for persons aged 25–64. These data indicate that substantial inequalities exist in the EU concerning the proportion of adults who are overweight or obese in terms of region, gender and socio-economic background.

Among the 19 EU Member States for which data are available, the proportion of adults (aged 18 years and over) who were considered to be overweight or obese varied in 2008 between 37.0 % and 56.7 % for women and between 51.0 % and 69.3 % for men (see Figures 1 and 2).

Between Romania and the United Kingdom there was a 15 percentage point difference in the proportion of obese men and women

For both women and men aged 18 years and over, the lowest proportions of the population considered to be obese in 2008 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 women who were obese were recorded in the United Kingdom (23.9 %), Malta (21.1 %), Latvia (20.9 %) and Estonia (20.5 %), and of men in Malta (24.7 %), the United Kingdom (22.1 %) and Hungary (21.4 %).

There was no systematic difference between the sexes as regards the share of obese women and men in 2008. In 10 of the 19 EU Member States for which data are available, a higher proportion of men (compared with women) were obese. By contrast, a higher proportion of women were obese in eight of the Member States. In Greece, the proportions of men and women who are obese were the same.

A higher proportion of men (than women) were overweight in each of the EU Member States

There was a much clearer picture as regards the differences between the sexes in relation to the share of the male and female populations that were considered to be overweight (but not obese). In 2008, across all 19 of the EU Member States for which data are available, the proportion of overweight men was consistently higher than the proportion of overweight women, as was also the case in Turkey. The difference between the sexes ranged from 8.2 percentage points in Hungary to 18.3 percentage points in Slovenia.

The share of the population that was overweight or obese generally increased with age

Figures 3 and 4 present an analysis, by age group, of the proportion of women and men who were overweight or obese in 2008. There was a marked increase in the proportion of women who were either overweight or obese as they became older (see Figure 3). Indeed, Romania was the only EU Member State where this pattern did not hold, with 61.5 % of women aged 45–64 considered overweight or obese, compared with 58.0 % of women aged 65–74.

There was a considerable difference between the proportion of women who were overweight or obese when comparing those aged 18–24 years with those aged 65–74 years. In 2008, this difference ranged from 34.1 percentage points in France up to 66.1 percentage points in Slovakia and 67.4 percentage points in Latvia.

The share of men who were considered to be overweight or obese also rose as a function of age up until the age of 64. However, there was generally little or no difference between the proportion of men who were overweight or obese when comparing those aged 45–64 years with those aged 65–74 years.

As the education level of women rose, the proportion considered as being overweight or obese fell

Figures 5 and 6 show the proportion of women and men who were overweight or obese in 2008, according to their educational attainment level. The proportion of women who were overweight or obese was lower among those with higher levels of educational attainment (see Figure 5) and this pattern held for each of the 18 EU Member States for which data are available. Indeed, the proportion of women with a tertiary education who were overweight or obese was at least 30 percentage points below the corresponding share for women with a lower level of education in Slovenia, Cyprus, Greece and Slovakia.

By contrast, the proportion of tertiary educated women in Turkey who were overweight or obese was slightly higher —some 3.7 percentage points — than the corresponding share for women with an upper secondary or post-secondary non-tertiary education.

For men, there was no clear cut pattern linking educational attainment levels and obesity (see Figure 6) and the differences in the proportion of men who were overweight or obese according to educational attainment were generally much smaller than for women. In 8 of the 18 EU Member States for which data are available, the highest proportion of men who were overweight or obese was recorded among those with no more than a lower secondary level of educational attainment, while there were four Member States where the highest proportion of overweight and obese men was recorded among those with a tertiary level of education.

Data sources and availability

Health status

The European health interview survey (EHIS) is the source of information for this article (except for the United Kingdom and Italy for which data from national surveys were used). It aims to provide harmonised statistics across the EU Member States in relation to the respondents’ health status, lifestyle (health determinants) and their use of healthcare services. This source is documented in more detail in this background article which provides information on the scope of the data, its legal basis, the methodology employed, as well as related concepts and definitions.

For those aged 25–44 and 45–64, the data on the proportion of the population who were either overweight or obese (see Figures 3 and 4) were calculated using weights based on population data from the EHIS.

The second wave of the EHIS is being conducted in all 28 EU Member States during the period 2013–15 according to European Commission Regulation 141/2013 and its subsequent amendment to take account of the accession of Croatia to the EU (European Commission Regulation 68/2014). The first results for individual EU Member States from this second wave of data collection are expected in 2016.

Body mass index

The body mass index (BMI) is a measure of a person’s weight relative to their height that links fairly well with body fat. The BMI is accepted as the most useful measure of obesity for adults (those aged 18 years and over) when only weight and height data are available. It is calculated as a person’s weight (in kilograms) divided by the square of his or her height (in metres).

BMI = weight (kg) / height (m²)

The following subdivision (according to the WHO) is used to classify results for the BMI:

  • < 18.50: underweight;
  • 18.50 – < 25.00: normal range;
  • 25.00 – < 30.00: overweight (excluding obesity);
  • >= 30.00: obese.

The analysis of people who are overweight or obese by educational level is based upon the International standard classification of education (ISCED), 1997 version, and refers to:

  • pre-primary, primary and lower secondary education (ISCED levels 0–2);
  • upper secondary and post-secondary non-tertiary education (ISCED levels 3 and 4);
  • tertiary education (ISCED levels 5 and 6).

The EHIS measures a range of indicators in relation to health determinants aside from the BMI, such as the consumption of fruit and vegetables, tobacco and alcohol, as well physical activity.

Context

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), Europe had the second highest proportion of overweight or obese people in 2008, behind the Americas. Globally, the share of adults (aged 20 years and over) who were thought to be overweight or obese was estimated at 35 %. This share rose above 50 % in Europe and the Americas. By contrast, it was considerably lower in Africa and south east Asia.

The number of overweight and obese persons has been growing in recent years and many people find it increasingly difficult to maintain a ‘normal’ weight in today's largely obesogenic environment. This environment spans from low breastfeeding rates to difficulties in geographically or financially accessing the ingredients of a healthy diet, to a lack of cooking skills, to the abundance and marketing of energy-rich foods, to urban planning choices and lifestyle pressures that often reduce the opportunity for physical activity (both at work or for leisure). While obesity was once considered a problem only for high income countries, there has been a considerable increase in the proportion of people from low- and middle-income countries who are considered to be overweight or obese (in particular in urban areas where people are more prone to a sedentary lifestyle). The malnutrition problem has become more complex as obesity and deficiencies in micronutrients can and do go hand in hand.

Nutrition is the intake of food, considered in relation to the body’s dietary needs. Good nutrition — an adequate, well-balanced diet combined with regular physical activity — is a cornerstone for good health. Specific recommendations for a healthy diet include: eating more fruit, vegetables, nuts and grains; cutting down on salt, sugar and fats. Poor nutrition can lead to reduced immunity, increased susceptibility to disease, and impaired physical and mental development. Indeed, across the EU, six of the seven largest risk factors for premature death — blood pressure, cholesterol, weight, inadequate fruit and vegetable intake, physical inactivity, and alcohol abuse — may, at least in part, be linked to how we eat, drink and exercise.

In March 2005, the European Commission launched a European platform for action on diet, physical activity and health, which led to more than 300 initiatives designed to promote better nutrition and physical activity in the EU. This was followed in May 2007 by a White paper which provided an integrated approach, involving stakeholders at local, regional, national and European levels concerning a Strategy for Europe on nutrition, overweight, and obesity-related health issues (COM(2007) 279 final). An Action Plan on Childhood Obesity was endorsed in 2014 by the members of the High Level Group on Nutrition and Physical Activity (with a reserve by the Netherlands). In the same year, Council Conclusions on Nutrition and Physical Activity were published.

See also

Online publications

Methodology

General health statistics articles

Further Eurostat information

Publications

Database

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)
Health problems of disabled people (sources SILC or EHIS) (hlth_dsb_hlth)
Body mass index (BMI) by level of activity limitation, sex and age (hlth_dh050)
Health (qol_hlt)
Drivers - healthy and unhealthy behaviours (qol_hlt_dr)
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)

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Methodology / Metadata

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

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