In several European countries, over a third of the population is overweight. Despite higher awareness of the importance of diet, obesity and overweight represent a serious problem.
If you are male and 1m80 weighing over 100 kilos or a woman of 1m60 and weighing over 77 kilos, you are obese. In less than two decades, obesity in British women jumped from 8 to 16% and from 6 to 13% in men.
Obesity is when Body Mass Index (BMI) is over 30. BMI is calculated by dividing a person's weight by the square of his or her height (kg/m2).
"Obese people run serious health risks such as hypertension, non-insulin-dependent diabetes, high blood levels of cholesterol and other lipids, heart disease, breast and large intestine cancers," states Dr. Andrew Prentice of the Medical Research Centre, UK.
Experts estimate obesity is eating up 3 to 8% of total health costs in certain European countries costing a much as health programs for cancer and AIDS.
Seven men and eight women out of 10 are physically inactive
While genetic components certainly play a role in some cases, environmental factors contribute significantly to obesity. Today, the typical European diet of energy-dense, high-fat content foods, combined with an increasingly sedentary lifestyle, can lead to obesity. There is an imbalance between energy output in the form of physical activity and energy intake. There's worse to come. This worrying trend is now also affecting children and adolescents.
Obese people prefer high fat foods. But fat is less satisfying, even though it contains more than twice the calories, gram for gram, than carbohydrates or protein. While eating fat is easy, burning it off is another story, as the body prefers to burn carbohydrates.
Surprisingly, total energy and fat intake are falling, so do not explain the present epidemic of obesity. Experts blame our increasingly sedentary lifestyle. Physical exercise does not cure obesity but it favours fat oxidation which seems to be impaired in obese people.
The expert's diagnosis: "combine diet with exercise. It's a good start towards overcoming obesity," adds Dr. Prentice.
See also EUFIC Review No. 3 "Understanding Obesity" for more details.