Nutrition deemed a growing challenge for health in the EU and beyond

Over half the EU adult population is now overweight or obese according to the "Health at a Glance: Europe 2010" report published by the European Commission and the OECD. The rate of obesity has more than doubled over the past 20 years in most EU Member States. This has considerable implications on health, health systems and on the wider economy. This is one of the many findings in a report which provides useful insight into the current situation of health in the EU.

Welcoming the report, European Commissioner for Health and Consumer Policy, John Dalli, said, "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 as policymakers. This is where the Health at a Glance report makes such an important contribution and shall be a useful tool in the coming months and years."

The report shows that prevalence of obesity alone ranges from less than 10% in Romania and Italy to over 20% in the UK, Ireland and Malta. On average, just over 15% of the EU adult population is obese.

Healthy habits start young. 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. Currently, 1 in 7 children in the EU are overweight or obese - and the figures are set to rise even further.

A high-level EU conference on nutrition, overweight and obesity, and jointly organised by the Belgian Presidency of the EU and the European Commission, will take place on 8 and 9 December in Brussels to look at ways to work together at European level to reverse this worrying trend.

Other key findings in the report

  • Life expectancy at birth in the EU increased from 72 years in 1980 to 78 years in 2007.
  • There are fewer deaths from heart disease, but it is still the biggest cause of deaths in the EU, accounting for 40% of all deaths in Europe in 2008.
  • There is a strong link between the prevalence of dementia and the ageing of the population as the number of people aged over 65 is expected to double between 1995 and 2050.
  • The shortage of doctors is a cause for concern in many European countries.
  • Health spending has risen in all EU Member States, often increasing at a faster rate than economic growth. In 2008, EU Member States spent, on average, 8.3% of their GDP on health, up from 7.3% in 1998.

The "Health at a Glance: Europe 2010" report, jointly published by the European Commission and the OECD, compiles data from the OECD, Eurostat and the WHO.

The report presents key trends on health, health systems and health spending in the 27 EU Member States, plus the 3 European Free Trade Association countries (Iceland, Norway and Switzerland) and Turkey.

The report can be consulted at the following websites: