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Combating obesity in Europe
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Background

The burden of prosperity

Fat is a valuable and necessary part of our body’s make-up. We need it to store energy for future use. However, as a person’s weight climbs, the scales begin to tip and fat goes from being useful to being potentially harmful. Once we accumulate too much fat for our physical needs, we become overweight.

Weight gain, up to a certain extent, is manageable, depending on the quality of a person’s diet and the amount of physical activity they engage in. However, once weight pushes past a certain critical threshold, a person becomes obese, and the associated health risks multiply exponentially.

Obesity, or excessive weight gain, can affect a person’s quality of life by making physical activity difficult and even perilous. It can also lead to a number of health complications, such as heart disease and diabetes.

Fighting the ‘globesity’ challenge

Although obese people are well-fed, they are often malnourished. Obesity has reached such massive proportions in industrialised countries and some parts of the developing world that the World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned of what it calls a globesity epidemic.

According to the European Association for the Study of Obesity, almost a third of people living in the European Union are overweight and more than one in ten is now clinically obese.

The number of European children who are overweight is set to rise from the current level of about a fifth to a quarter by 2008, some analysts say. These sobering figures have led to high-profile national initiatives to combat our expanding waistlines, such as the UK’s Fat Nation campaign.

Such campaigns should be and usually are informed by science, and EU research is helping expand our understanding of obesity and its related health challenges. This leaflet outlines some of that research work.

Weighty statistics

  • A person is considered obese if (s)he has 20% extra body fat for his or her age, height, sex and bone structure. This is often calculated using what is known as the body mass index (BMI = weight (kg)/height (m)2)
  • More than a third of EU citizens are overweight (25<BMI<29.9) and one in ten is obese (BMI>30)
  • Every year, some 400 000 schoolchildren join the ranks of the overweight
  • Poor diet and lack of exercise are among the leading causes of avoidable deaths in Europe, with obesity making up as much as 8% of healthcare costs
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