Malta has once again been confirmed as the most obese nation in the European Union outweighing second-placed Latvia by almost five per cent.

More than one in four adults in Malta (26 per cent) is considered obese, followed by about one in five in Latvia (21.3 per cent), Hungary (21.2 per cent), Estonia (20.4 per cent) and the UK (20.1 per cent).

The results emerged in a European Health Interview survey which established that almost one adult in six in the EU is considered obese.

Among the EU states for which data is available, the lowest shares of obesity in 2014 among the population aged 18 or over were recorded in Romania (9.4 per cent) and Italy (10.7 per cent), followed by the Netherlands (13.3 per cent), Belgium and Sweden (both 14 per cent).

While 46.1 per cent of those aged 18 or over living in the EU had a normal weight in 2014, slightly more than half of the adults (51.6 per cent) were considered as over-weight (35.7 per cent pre-obese and 15.9 per cent obese) and a further 2.3 per cent as under-weight.

This meant that nearly one in every six persons aged 18 or over in the EU was obese in 2014. Obesity is a serious public health problem that can be statistically measured using the Body Mass Index of adults. 

The share of obese adults clearly varies between age groups and according to education level.

Photo: Matthew MirabelliPhoto: Matthew Mirabelli

With the exception of those aged 75 or over, the older the age group, the higher the share of obese persons: the obesity share in the EU stood at 22.1 per cent for people aged 65 to 74, while it was 5.7 per cent for those aged 18 to 24.

The pattern is also clear for education level: the proportion of obese persons in the EU falls as the educational level rises.

While the percentage of obese persons among those with low education level reached 19.9 per cent, it decreased to 16 per cent for those with a medium education level and to 11.5 per cent for the population with a high education level.

Men in Malta more obese 

Although no systematic difference in obesity levels between men and women was recorded the proportion of obesity was higher for men in half of the EU states, and higher for women in the other half.

The proportion of obese men is much higher than that of women in Malta (28.1 per cent for men compared with 23.9 per cent for women, or +4.2 percentage points), Croatia (+3.9 pp), Slovenia (+3.6 pp) and Cyprus (+3.4 pp). On the other hand, the percentage of obese women was much higher than men in Lithuania (19.9 per cent for women compared with 14.1 per cent for men, or +5.8 pp), Latvia (+4.4 pp) and the Netherlands (+3.6 pp).

At EU level, the share of obesity was almost equal in 2014 between men (16.1 per cent) and women (15.7 per cent).

A clear age effect

In nearly all states, the share of obesity increased with age. The widest gaps between the proportion of young people (aged 18-24) and older persons (aged 65-74) being obese were recorded in Slovakia (33 per cent for people aged 65 to 74 compared with 2.7 per cent for those aged 18 to 24, or +30.3 pp) and Latvia (+29.3 pp), followed by Estonia (+26.4 pp), Lithuania (+25.3 pp), Poland (+25.1 pp), the Czech Republic and Hungary (both +24.5 pp).

At EU level, a 16.4 percentage point gap is observed between young adults (5.7 per cent) and older persons (22.1 per cent) as regards obesity.

About one young adult out of 10 is considered obese in Malta (12 per cent) and the UK (10.8 per cent), and about one in three older persons in Malta (33.6 per cent), Latvia (33.2 per cent) and Slovakia (33 per cent).

The study reinforces previous reports which show the Maltese consistently tipping the weighing scales.

Researchers from the University of Malta found that seven in 10 adults are either overweight or obese. The study, called ‘Prevalence of Obesity in Malta’, was conducted by the Faculty of Medicine and Surgery between 2014 and 2016 and measured the body mass index (BMI) of a sample of 18-to-70-year-olds.

According to a study released last May, 40 per cent of all boys of secondary school age are obese.

Malta also emerged as one of the fattest, laziest and most car-dependent nations on the planet, according to a new report by the Today Public Policy Institute based on an analysis of international statistics.

An anti-obesity campaign was launched in 2012 and will run until 2020. The Health Ministry has set up an inter-ministerial committee to work on a holistic approach to address the issue.

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