Obesity, smoking and alcohol remain biggest preventable threats to health in Europe, says the WHO

Obesity and Weight

The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that levels of obesity, alcohol consumption and tobacco use remain high within the European region, despite progress in other health areas.

The WHO's European Health Report 2015 highlights key areas for improvement among the 53 participating European member states after collated evidence indicates that a hefty 59% of the overall population is clinically obese.

Obesity can increase the risk of developing other health problems including cancer, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and hypertension, contributing to an increased risk of stroke and heart attack.

In addition, levels of tobacco use and alcohol consumption were found to be higher than the rest of the world - 30% of the population of the European region are smokers and the equivalent of 11 litres, or 20 pints, of pure alcohol is consumed per person, per year.

The report shows that progress has been made with regards to levels of health inequality across the region, with improvements in both infant mortality and life expectancy. However, a life expectancy gap equivalent to 11 years still exists between the best and worst performing countries, and a gap of 20 healthy babies per 1000 live births between the best and worst performing countries.

Young people "may not live as long as their grandparents"

WHO regional director for Europe Dr Zsuzsanna Jakab says the report "shows heartening progress", but warns: "There is a very real risk that these gains will be lost if smoking and alcohol consumption continue at the current rate.This is especially relevant to young people, who may not live as long as their grandparents."

Earlier this year the WHO made the controversial suggestion that governments should introduce a sugar tax, alongside a clampdown on cheap alcohol and a subsidy on fruit and vegetables in an effort to tackle the problems.

The latest figures from Public Health England show that while tobacco use in England has fallen 30% over the past 20 years, 1 in 5 adults are still smokers and 17% of all deaths of people aged 35 or over can be attributed to smoking.


Alcohol consumption in the UK is close to the European average at 10.6 litres per person but  the UK is above average when it comes to obesity, with 63.4% of people classed as overweight or obese.

The WHO predicts that obesity levels will continue to rise in the UK unless preventative measures are taken, and estimates that 64% of women and 74% of men will be clinically obese by 2030, a situation that could have profound implications on public health.

The European Health Report, published every three years, aims to provide public health agencies, policy-makers and the public an indication of progress in health and well-being, as well as a benchmark for comparison as the region works towards implementing improvements to health.

How can I check if I am overweight?

A Body Mass Index (BMI) calculator is a useful way to check if you are a healthy weight.

The NHS Choices BMI Calculator takes account of gender, age, activity levels, height and weight to give you your score, or BMI, as well as an estimated healthy weight and suggested calorie range.

A score of between 18.5 and 25 is considered healthy, between 25 and 29 indicates that you are overweight, and a score of 30 or above indicates obesity.

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