Ireland at fore of Europe’s obesity crisis

Europe is heading for an unprecedented explosion in rates of obesity and excess weight with Ireland at the forefront of the trend, say researchers.

By 2030, Europe will face an obesity crisis of “enormous proportions”, according to World Health Organisation (WHO) experts.

In 2030, the proportion of obese and overweight men in Ireland is projected to rise to 89% with a corresponding 85% of women falling into this category.

The forecast puts Irish men at the top of an “overweight” table of 53 countries, matched only by Uzbekistan. Bulgaria and Belgium are predicted to have the highest proportion of overweight and obese women in 2030.

READ MORE: How much are our genes to blame for obesity? .

The so-far unpublished estimates, part of the WHO Modelling Obesity Project, were presented at the European Congress on Obesity in Prague, the Czech Republic.

“Overweight” is clinically defined by a body mass index (BMI) — a measure relating height and weight — of 25 to 29.9, and “obese” by a BMI of 30 and above.

For this study, the “overweight” category also included anyone who was obese. Using these criteria, researchers looked at data from all 53 countries in the WHO European region, to compare recorded and projected figures for 2010 and 2030.

In terms of obesity alone, the estimates show a big jump for women in Ireland, soaring from 23% to 57%.The proportion of obese Irish men was expected to increase from 26% to 48% while the figure for those either overweight or obese rises from 74% to 89%.

In the UK, 36% of men and 33% of women were forecast to be obese in 2030 compared with 26% of both sexes in 2010.

Other countries with projected steep rises in obesity included Greece, Spain, Sweden, Austria, and the Czech Republic.

Dr Laura Webber, from the UK Health Forum in London, who co-led the research, said: “Our study presents a worrying picture of rising obesity across Europe. Policies to reverse this trend are urgently needed. 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.

READ MORE: How much are our genes to blame for obesity? .

“There are also some countries in which there were insufficient data. As these countries improve their obesity surveillance, more accurate estimates can be forecast."

Colleague Dr Joao Breda, from the WHO Regional Office for Europe in Geneva, Switzerland, said: “Although this was a forecasting exercise, and therefore data needs to be interpreted with extreme caution, it conveys two strong messages – first that the availability and quality of the data in countries needs to be improved, and second these predictions show that more needs to be done in terms of preventing and tackling overweight and obesity."

While few countries were expected to see stable or decreasing overweight and obesity rates, the Netherlands appeared to be doing better than most.

Fewer than half of Dutch men were predicted to be overweight or obese, and just 8% obese, by 2030 compared with 54% and 10% in 2010.

For Dutch women, overweight and obese rates were due to fall slightly from 44% to 43% while the level of obesity alone were expected to drop significantly from 13% to 9%.

READ MORE: How much are our genes to blame for obesity? .

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