Published:  12:18 AM, 13 September 2018

Rising European life expectancy undermined by obesity: WHO


Life expectancy in Europe continues to increase but obesity and the growing proportion of people who are overweight risks reversing this trend, the World Health Organization warned Wednesday.

In its European Health Report, covering 53 countries in a vast geographical area from the Atlantic to the Pacific, the UN agency found well-being is the highest in the world but varies widely within the region.

Average life expectancy from birth has increased from 76.7 years in 2010 to 77.8 years in 2015. Women continue to live longer than men -- 81.1 years compared to 74.6 years for men, although the gap has slightly narrowed. There are also major differences between countries. Men live almost 16 years longer in Iceland (81.4 years) than in Kazakhstan (65.7 years).

"Progress is uneven, both within and between countries, between sexes, and across generations," said Zsuzsanna Jakab, the WHO's director for Europe. But she warned: "Lifestyle-related risk factors give cause for concern, as they may slow, or even reverse the great gains in life expectancy if left unchecked."

"Overweight and obesity are on an upward trend in almost all member states," said the report, which was launched in London. In 2016, 23.3 percent of people in the region were obese, up 2.5 percentage points in six years, and 58.7 percent were overweight, up 2.8 points. The trend is particularly marked in Turkey, where almost four in 10 women -- 39.2 percent -- are obese.

The WHO definition of obesity is someone with a body mass index (BMI) of more than 30, meaning more than 87 kilograms (192 pounds) for someone measuring 1.7 meters (5.5 feet). Two other countries with a particular problem are Malta, where 29.8 percent of the population is obese, and Britain, where the figure is 27.8 percent.

The report also notes Europe has some of the highest rates of smoking and alcohol consumption in the world. Some 29 percent of people over the age of 15 smoke, compared with 16.9 percent in the Americas region and 24.8 percent in southeast Asia.

-AFP, London

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