Public perceptions of obesity in Europe

Foreword from the European Association for the Study of Obesity (EASO)

Obesity is one of the fastest growing threats to the health and wellbeing of our society. In some European countries as many as six out of ten adults are now classified as overweight or obese and by 2030 it is predicted that this could rise to as high as nine out of ten1.

And yet, many people still do not understand the threat. They underestimate their own weight, misjudge the weight of others around them, and appear to have little knowledge of the consequences.

It is clear that the vast majority of people also regard obesity as a problem purely of personal lifestyle, rather than recognizing that there are other underlying issues which society needs to address.

There are still a surprising number of people who do not realise that obesity is a gateway to many other diseases, including diabetes, cardiovascular disorders, cancer, and joint problems. With a rising number of people becoming overweight or obese, so the prevalence of these secondary conditions is snowballing, putting an ever increasing burden on society through higher health and social care costs, as well as by reducing Europe’s healthy workforce.

For governments, policymakers and health authorities, the findings of this survey should be of great concern. It gives some fascinating insights into the perceptions of people across a selection of European countries. But it also confirms that much greater effort needs to be made to educate and inform people about the implications.

This latest survey follows a similar multicountry review and survey of policymakers (hyperlink to http://recovery.easo.org/policymakersurvey) conducted by EASO in 2014. The previous survey looked at whether policymakers appreciated the extent of the epidemic, the drivers of obesity, and the tools and actions that need to be taken to make a difference. It likewise concluded that there is still clearly more to be done to raise awareness, particularly of the impact that obesity prevention and management programmes could have nationally.

EASO believes that overweight and obese individuals should have access to appropriate care to help them manage their weight and prevent later complications. There is an urgent need for better education to improve understanding and inform overweight or obese people about the support and, if appropriate, treatments that can help them avoid conditions like heart disease.

Major policy change is therefore needed, and the first step must be improving awareness of the challenge of obesity.

Euan Woodward
Executive Director, EASO

1 Webber L, Divajeval D, Marsh T, et al. The European obese model: the shape of things to come. European Society of Cardiology, May 2014