European obesity on the rise: Study


A new study from France shows that obesity is on the rise across Europe. What is to blame? Poor eating habits, stress and a lack of physical exercise. EURACTIV France reports.

According to the French 'Mutuelle Générale de l’Education Nationale' (MGEN) and the polling institution Opinion Way, obesity is rapidly becoming a European epidemic. The survey was carried out between January and February 2014 and questioned 2339 people. It found that 16% of France's population is obese.

At a European level, obesity is much higher. The European Commission reports that almost 52% of Europeans are overweight or obese. This percentage represents half of all adults and one in three children.

Obesity is much more than a simple question of aesthetics. It leads to serious medical problems like diabetes, cardiovascular and respiratory diseases.

The doctor responsible for the innovation and health department of MGEN, Karim Ould-Kaci, states that “Obesity is a complex disease. It is difficult to reverse and represents the root cause of other medical issues.”

Bad nutrition

The epidemic has many root causes, but bad nutrition is number one. According to the study, 46% of French people go to fast food restaurants, yet “86% of French people judge their diet as “good”. Worse still, “only 20% of obese people consider their diet as “pretty bad”".

Dr. Ould Kaci also underlines the importance of personal habits in the development of obesity. “Consuming food alone increases the chances of becoming overweight and obese, whereas eating meals together reduces these risks”.

Insecurity and obesity

Although obesity concerns the entirety of Europe's demography, lower social classes are those most affected.

The least well off in society consume cheaper alimentary products. 

Dr. Ould Kaci explains that “cheap products contain high levels of fat, sugar and simple sugars. Thus they are important factors responsible for obesity”.

“Four French regions are acutely affected by obesity, notably Nord-Pas-de-Calais, Picardy, Upper Normandy and Champagne-Ardenne. It is worth noting that in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais the prevalence of obesity is 40% higher than the national average.”

Contrary to men who are more likely to be obese when economically well off, obesity is more likely in women from low social classes.

Dr. Ould-Kaci points to work conditions and stress as extra risks in the development of obesity in men.

Lack of sleep

According to the study, lack of sleep is also a cause of the obesity epidemic as “49% of obese people suffer from sleeping disorders, whereas 70% of people of regular weight are not affected”.

Dr. Ould-Kaci highlights that “there is a relationship between short sleep and the development of obesity. According to a recent study, the risks of obesity in someone who sleeps less than six hours per night is fourfold compared to someone who sleeps seven hours per night. Increasing the time slept by one hour reduces the chances of obesity by 10%”.

The doctor does not have a miracle cure to reduce the risks of obesity: “One must work case-to-case and people are advised to consult with a doctor and/or a dietician.”


Approximately four million people in Europe and 1.5 million people in the EU die of cardiovascular disease each year, according to the European Heart Network (EHN) and the European Society for Cardiology (ESC). The main forms of heart disease are coronary heart disease and stroke.

To reduce the number of deaths from heart disease, the European state members have agreed to tackle the underlying health determinants behind cardiovascular health in its 2014-2020 health programme.

A key element in fighting cardiovascular disease is to address the underlying health determinants, including bad cholesterol, tobacco use, obesity, diet, physical activity and high blood pressure.


  • 3-4 Apr.: EU Chronic Disease summit in Brussels

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