European alcohol, smoking and obesity rates are ‘alarming’ says WHO

cigaretteThe United States is often branded the fattest country in the world (technically true depending on which statistics are used), however Europe is doing its best to take over this unwanted mantle from America, with “alarming” rates of drinking, eating and smoking found throughout Europe in a new report conducted by the World Health Organization (WHO).

In the United States, a staggering 78 million people, or 33% of the adult population, are classified as obese, whilst 74.1% of the people aged 15 and over are either overweight or obese (i.e. with a body mass index (BMI) of 25 or above).

However, health officials have now stressed that Europe has the world’s highest rates of drinking and smoking, with more than half of people now fat, which could ultimately lead to a whole number of serious health problems such as asthma, cancer, heart disease, osteoarthritis and stroke.

In what is the first study of its kind for three years, the European Health Report 2015 looked at 39 countries including European Union member states, in addition to former Soviet republics, to see if the WHO’s ‘Health 2020’ targets are being met.

It was discovered that the average life expectancy for men and women can drastically vary, ranging from 71 years of age in Belarus, Moldova and Russia, to 82 in France, Italy and Spain, according to figures from 2011. Overall, life expectancy for Europeans has risen from an average of 73.2 years back in 1990, to 76.8 years by 2011.

“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”, said Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO’s regional director, speaking to the Guardian.

WHO noted that many European countries seemed to have lower risk factors for premature death, the rates of obesity, tobacco use and alcohol consumption “remain alarmingly high”. The United Nations health agency calculated that in the previous four years, a growing number of Europeans are now classed as either overweight or obese, with 58.6% of Europeans overweight, and 23% suffering from obesity.

The report states that obesity is “one of the greatest public health challenges of the 21st century”, which “drastically increases a person’s risk of developing several [diseases], including cardiovascular diseases, cancer and diabetes mellitus”.

There is also a great deal of concern about Europe’s drinking and smoking habits. Although between 2005 and 2010, total alcohol consumption lowered by 10% in Europe, the continent still has the highest drinking rates across the globe.

Europe has the world’s highest prevalence of alcohol dependence (4%) according to the report, as well as the highest prevalence of alcohol-use disorders (7%). It is estimated that an average of 11 litres of pure alcohol are consumed per person every year, whilst around 30% of Europe uses tobacco.

“Europeans live long lives and healthy lives. We are the longest living region in the world,” said Claudia Stein, a senior WHO director for Europe.

She continued: “The differences in health status between European countries are inexplicably wide.

Stein warned that this could have the most serious impact on younger people, since their lives may be shortened unless action is taken to bring down consumption levels of tobacco, alcohol and calories.

“If rates of smoking and alcohol consumption and obesity do not decline we may risk the gains in life expectancy we have seen — which may mean that the next generation may lead shorter lives than that we do.”

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