The 10 most overweight countries in Europe. How does the UK compare?

Victoria Bell
Embargoed to 0001 Monday July 27 Picture posed by model File photo dated 03/03/14 of an 11 year old girl using a set of weighing scales. Prime Minister Boris Johnson will announce the end of confectionery displays at store checkouts and ban junk food adverts on TV before 9pm as he looks to encourage Britons to shed the pounds.
The 'Better Health' campaign is to encourage the UK to take action to improve their health. (Getty)

Boris Johnson’s new obesity strategy will lead to a ban on TV adverts before 9pm for foods high in fat, sugar and salt, and will end confectionery displays at shop checkouts.

The ‘Better Health’ campaign is to encourage the UK public – the third fattest country in Europe, according to the World Health Organization (WHO) – to take action to improve their health.

In a video released to mark the launch of the government’s obesity strategy, Johnson said he had lost at least a stone in weight after recovering from coronavirus.

The prime minister said he was “way overweight” when he was admitted to intensive care in April as he battled COVID-19 and was put on oxygen.

Johnson has revealed already how his own brush with COVID-19 convinced him of the need to tackle the UK’s bulging collective waistline, saying the plan would help “reduce our health risks and protect ourselves against coronavirus”.

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson, left, elbow bumps Lead Nurse Marina Marquis, during a visit to Tollgate Medical Centre in Beckton, East London, Friday July 24, 2020. (Jeremy Selwyn/Pool Photo via AP)
Boris Johnson elbow bumps lead nurse Marina Marquis during a visit to Tollgate Medical Centre in Beckton, London, July 24. (AP)

The strategy comes as evidence has begun to mount linking excess weight with a higher risk of severe illness from coronavirus.

A Public Health England (PHE) study published on Saturday discovered that being classed as medically obese increased the risk of death from coronavirus by 40%.

According to WHO data, Britain has the third-highest level of obesity among European nations.

Read more: What is the coronavirus treatment being hailed a 'breakthrough'?

The data is based on a person with a body mass index (BMI) over 30, which is classified as obese. The WHO assessed data on around 900 million people in 53 countries in the lead-up to 2016.

At 27.8%, the percentage of the UK population who are obese is lower only than Turkey, at 32.1%, and Malta, with 28.9%.

The average percentage of people who are obese in Europe is 23.3%.

Women tend to have a slightly higher obesity rate than men. In 2016, 28.6% of British women were classified as obese, compared to 26.9% of men.

See a full list below of top 10 overweight countries in Europe by percentage (both sexes)

Turkey 32.1%

Malta 28.9%

United Kingdom 27.8%

Hungary 26.4%

Lithuania 26.3%

Israel 26.1%

Czech Republic 26%

Andorra 25.6%

Ireland 25.3%

Bulgaria 25%

Percentage of the female population

Turkey 39.2%

United Kingdom 28.6%

Malta 28.5%

Lithuania 27.8%

Russian Federation 26.9%

Belarus: 26.3%

Israel 26.2%

Ukraine 25.7%

Ireland 25.5%

Greece 25.4%

Percentage of the male population

Malta 29.2%

Hungary 28.2%

United Kingdom 26.9%

Czech Republic 26.4%

Israel 25.9%

Andorra 25.9%

Bulgaria 25.5%

Ireland 25.1%

Spain 24.6%

Luxembourg 24.5%

Through the years: UK population’s obesity

2016: 27.8%

2010: 24.2%

2000: 18.6%

1990: 14%

1975: 9.4%

LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - 2020/07/21: American fast food company, McDonald's restaurant seen at Charing Cross Road Street in London. McDonald's to open 700 restaurants for dine-in tomorrow with food served by table service only and all customers asked to leave their contact details. (Photo by Dave Rushen/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
Fast food restaurant McDonald's. (PA)

So how did we get here?

Obesity is a growing risk to the health of people in developed nations, and has been described as an epidemic and global health concern.

The rapid rise in obesity could be blamed on our modern lifestyles, including our reliance on cars, TVs, computers, desk-bound jobs and high-calorie food, dense in sugar and saturated fat.

We are constantly being enticed by cheaper, faster foods.

Often the worst kinds of food are the fastest and cheapest to make, which goes hand in hand with most people’s modern, fast-paced lives.

People are often lured in by the convenience and marketing of junk food, without paying much attention to its calorie content.

Read more: 'Broken heart syndrome' on the rise during coronavirus pandemic

Research also claims that lack of sleep caused by the stimulation of electronic devices could be fuelling obesity.

A good night’s sleep may prevent common metabolic disorders, including growing numbers of cases of type-2 diabetes.

It is also thought that Britain's drink problem is linked to the rise in obesity.

The UK's alcohol consumption levels are among the highest in Europe, with each person drinking an average of 10.7 litres of pure alcohol every year, compared to the European average of 8.6.

Alcohol is bad for the waistline because it is made from sugar or starch and is "empty calories" – meaning they have no nutritional value.

glass mug with beer and foam in a man's hand on the background of nature close up
The UK's alcohol consumption levels are among the highest in Europe. (Getty)

PHE says: “The increasingly obesogenic environment we live in makes it harder for individuals to avoid unhealthy lifestyle choices.

“From childhood, people are exposed to ultra-processed, energy-dense, nutrient-poor foods, which are cheap and readily available.

“Opportunities for physical activity, both in and out of school and the workplace, have been reduced and more time is spent on screen-based and sedentary leisure activities.

“As a result, high proportions of children and adults have increasingly been defaulting to unhealthy lifestyle choices including unhealthy diets, low levels of physical activity, and sedentary behaviour.”

The consequences of obesity include diabetes, heart disease and cancer, and people dying needlessly from avoidable diseases.

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