The Maltese are Europe’s most obese, body mass index data confirms

European Health Interview Survey: Almost one adult in four in Malta is considered obese, share of obesity increases with age and decreases with education level

Matthew Vella
20 October 2016, 12:15pm
Obesity concerned more than 1 in 4 adults in Malta (26.0%)
Obesity concerned more than 1 in 4 adults in Malta (26.0%)
About one young adult out of 10 is considered obese in Malta (12.0%) and the United Kingdom (10.8%), and about one in three older persons in Malta (33.6%), Latvia (33.2%) and Slovakia (33.0%), making the EU’s smallest member state home to the bloc’s most obese people.

Among the EU member states for which data are available, the lowest shares of obesity in 2014 among the population aged 18 or over were recorded in Romania (9.4%) and Italy (10.7%), ahead of the Netherlands (13.3%), Belgium and Sweden (both 14.0%).

At the opposite end of the scale, obesity concerned more than 1 in 4 adults in Malta (26.0%), and about 1 in 5 in Latvia (21.3%), Hungary (21.2%), Estonia (20.4%) and the United Kingdom (20.1%).

While 46.1% of those aged 18 or over living in the European Union (EU) had a normal weight in 2014, slightly more than half of the adults (51.6%) were considered as over-weight (35.7% pre-obese and 15.9% obese) and a further 2.3% as under-weight. In other words, nearly 1 in every 6 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 (BMI) of adults. Obesity is defined as a BMI of 30 or over.

The share of obese adults clearly varies between age groups and according to education level. 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% for people aged 65 to 74, while it was below 6% (5.7%) 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. Indeed, while the percentage of obese persons among those with low education level reached almost 20% (19.9%), it decreased to 16.0% for those with a medium education level and to less than 12% (11.5%) for the population with a high education level

Education clearly plays a role in all Member States

In almost every EU Member State for which data are available, the share of obesity decreases with education level. In 2014, the largest difference in obesity between adults with a high educational level and those with a low educational level was observed in Slovenia (9.2% for people with a high education level compared with 26.0% for those with a low education level, or -16.8 pp), followed by Luxembourg (-14.5 pp), Slovakia (-13.9 pp), Spain  (-13.0 pp), Croatia and Portugal (both -12.3 pp), France (-12.1 pp), Austria (-11.9 pp) and Cyprus (-11.8 pp). At EU level, an 8.4 percentage point gap is observed between high educated (11.5%) and low educated adults (19.9%) as regards obesity.

No systematic difference in obesity between men and women…

There is no systematic difference in obesity levels between men and women: the proportion of obesity was higher for men in half of the Member States, and higher for women in the other half. Within a Member State however, significant gaps can be observed, with the proportion of obese men being much higher than that of women in Malta (28.1% for men compared with 23.9% for women, or +4.2 percentage points – pp), Croatia (+3.9 pp), Slovenia (+3.6 pp) and Cyprus (+3.4 pp), and the percentage of obese women being much higher than that of men in Lithuania (19.9% for women compared with 14.1% 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%) and women (15.7%).

But a clear age effect

In nearly all Member States, the share of obesity increases 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 (33.0% for people aged 65 to 74 compared with 2.7% 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%) and older persons (22.1%) as regards obesity.

Matthew Vella is executive editor at MaltaToday.