LONDON (Reuters) - More than half of adults in European Union are overweight or obese, piling pressure onto their own health, their nations’ health systems and the wider economy, the OECD and the EU Commission said on Tuesday.
In a report on health in the 27-member bloc, the Paris-based Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the Brussels-based Commission said the rate of obesity has more than doubled over the past 20 years in most member states.
It also found that one in seven EU children is overweight or obese, and said the figures are set to rise even further.
“This has considerable implications for costs of healthcare,” it said, citing a recent study on England which forecast that total costs linked to overweight and obesity could increase by as much as 70 percent between 2007 and 2015.
“Children who are obese or overweight are more likely to suffer from poor health later in life, with a greater risk of developing heart disease, diabetes, some forms of cancer, arthritis, asthma, a reduced quality of life and even premature death,” the “Health at a Glance: Europe 2010” report said.
Overweight people have a body mass index (BMI) of between 25 and 30 and obese people have a BMI of 30 or more, according to the World Health Organization. BMI is calculated by dividing weight in kilograms by height in meters squared.
Over half the EU adult population, or 50.1 percent is now overweight or obese.
Looking at health spending, the report found that this had risen in all EU member states in the past decade, often increasing at a faster rate than economic growth. In 2008, EU states spent on average 8.3 percent of their gross domestic product (GDP) on health, up from 7.3 percent in 1998.
Meanwhile, better living conditions and medical progress have allowed life expectancy at birth in the EU to increase by 6 years between 1980 to 2007, from an average of 72 years in 1980 to 78 years in 2007.
“Improvements in living and working conditions and in some health-related behaviors have contributed greatly to these longevity gains, but progress in medical care also deserves much credit,” the report said.
The report described a wide range of obesity rates across the EU, from less than 10 percent in Romania and Italy to more than 20 percent in the UK, Ireland and Malta. On average, just over 15 percent of the EU adult population is obese.
Commenting on the report, Europe’s Commissioner for health and consumer policy John Dalli said it would serve as a useful tool for governments to see where the major problems are.
“In order to reverse the growing trend in obesity and other health problems in the EU we need reliable and up-to-date data to underpin the action we take,” he said in a statement.
The report found that several factors — including lower rates of smoking and less heavy drinking in some countries — had led to a decline in deaths from heart disease, it is still the biggest cause of death in the EU, accounting for 40 percent of all deaths in Europe in 2008.
The second leading cause of death in the EU is cancer, which accounted for 26 percent of deaths in 2008. The highest number of cancer deaths was reported in Denmark, followed by Hungary, Poland, the Czech and Slovak Republics and Slovenia. The lowest numbers of cancer deaths were in Cyprus, Finland and Sweden.