Obesity growing in Europe, but declining in the Netherlands

Obesity growing in Europe, but declining in the Netherlands

At a recent European Congress on Obesity in Prague, representatives of the World Health Organization (WHO) gave a warning that has become familiar in recent years: waistlines are expanding all over Europe, likely with grave consequences for the future.

However, the results of the WHO’s latest study on European obesity are surprising, at least as they relate to the Netherlands: 15 years from now, excess weight and obesity are likely to be less of a problem amongst the Dutch than they are today.

Ireland, Britain especially obese

The study, commissioned by the WHO's Regional European office in Copenhagen, makes predictions about the percentage of various countries' citizens likely to be overweight or obese in 2030, unless action is taken soon. The forecasts are based on nationally-available data from 2010. 

An obese person has a BMI (Body Mass Index), or height-weight ratio, of 30 or higher. A person with a BMI of over 25 is in the "overweight" category.

According to the WHO, Ireland is currently facing the greatest obesity threat: the vast majority (80 per cent) of its citizens older than 15 will be overweight or obese by 2030.

Britain is also heading towards a serious health crisis, as are Greece, Spain, Austria, the Czech Republic and Sweden.

The Netherlands is an anomaly

In 2010 in the Netherlands, 54 per cent of men were overweight and 10 per cent were obese.

The WHO researchers predict that fewer Dutch men will have weight issues 15 years from now: 49 per cent will be overweight, with 10 per cent in the obese category.

The decrease for Dutch women will be less dramatic.  In 2010, 43 per cent of women were overweight and 13 per cent were obese. In 2030, the number of overweight women will be roughly the same, with a drop in obesity to nine per cent.

Making positive changes

The WHO advised the Dutch government to continue and expand its programmes aimed at encouraging balanced eating. Currently, many programmes encourage families and schools to work with children, helping them to make healthy changes to diet and lifestyle habits.

The Dutch Voedingscentrum (Nutrition Centre) reports a good indication of success with these programs.

However, Matthijs van den Berg, spokesperson for the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport, warned the Netherlands against complacency: with roughly half the population overweight, diabetes and heart disease are still a major threat.

Emily McCallum


Emily McCallum

Emily grew up in a small coastal town in western Canada and moved to Utrecht in 2014, after completing her studies in Vancouver and Germany. So far, she has been...

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