Dutch survey finds link between education and weight

There are large regional differences across the Netherlands in levels of obesity, smoking and alcohol use, and evidence that obesity rates correlate with levels of education and smoking rates with income levels.

This is according to the first large survey on health and lifestyle in the Netherlands, conducted by regional health authorities, statistics bureau CBS and National Institute for Public Health and Environment (RVIM), which surveyed around 387.000 adults in 2012.

Obesity rates

Earlier studies showed that one in four Dutch people are overweight. This latest study found that areas with relatively highly educated populations had the lowest levels of overweight citizens.

Utrecht is the slimmest region, with 38 per cent of people reporting a Body Mass Index (BMI) greater than 25, the score over which people are considered overweight.

Other low levels occurred in Amsterdam (41 per cent), Gooi and Vecht (45 per cent) and Nijmegen (45 per cent). The highest levels were found in South Holland South, Twente, Drenthe and South Limburg. Here the majority of people are overweight: nearly 52 per cent.

These higher levels are in part explained by the composition of the population. South Holland South and Twente have relatively lower educated populations, while fewer young people live in Drenthe and South Limburg compared to other Dutch regions.

In terms of obesity appearing to correlate with higher levels of education, the survey found that more than 60 per cent of people whose highest level of education was vocational high school (vmbo-niveau) are overweight. Contrasting with this is the rate amongst people with a university education: 33 per cent.

Obesity is also linked to age: a third of 19 to 40 year olds are overweight, while in older age groups the proportion is more than half.

Smoking tobacco

Regions with the lowest average income had the highest number of smokers.

This includes both highly urbanised areas in the Randstad such Amsterdam, Rotterdam-Rijnmond, Utrecht and Haaglanded, and more rural regions including Groningen, Friesland, Drenthe, Twente and South Limburg. In these regions around one in four people smoke, as opposed to one in five in other parts of the country.

Alcohol consumption

In the Netherlands’ more heavy drinking regions, like North Holland, Amsterdam, Brabant and Twente, 12 to 13 per cent of people have between one and six drinks a week. Utrecht also has higher rates of drinking, but this correlates to the relatively high numbers of students there.

In Flevoland and other regions with larger numbers of people who have religious reasons to abstain from drinking, namely immigrants and those within the "Bible Belt," weekly alcohol consumption drops to 6 per cent.

A curious conclusion, focusing on the capital, is that while Amsterdammers may be among the slimmest Dutch people, they are certainly not the healthiest.

Dutch adults with an unhealthy lifestyle

  Amsterdam Netherlands
Seriously overweight 11,3% 12,7%
Smoker 26,1% 22,8%
Heavy drinker 12,3% 10,4%


Sources: CBS, Volkskrant

Alexandra Gowling


Alexandra Gowling

Alexandra is an Australian citizen and an experienced expat, having spent (quite a bit of) time in Asia before coming to the Netherlands a year ago. She enjoys writing, reading...

Read more



Leave a comment