British women are officially the most overweight in Europe.
A quarter are obese – so fat it threatens their health – according to alarming figures.
This is a far higher proportion than in the other countries of Western Europe.
Obesity levels in the UK are far worse than Germany, Italy and France
British men are doing almost as badly, with more than one in five classed as obese, according to the authoritative figures.
Experts are especially concerned by the young age at which so many women here are developing serious weight problems.
A disturbing 16 per cent of young women aged 18 to 24 are obese – up to 16 times higher than many other European countries where the rate is between 1 per cent and 3 per cent.
Young men are doing better, around 6 per cent are obese, but a worrying one third of men aged 45-64 are obese in the UK.
The deeply troubling figures are contained in a report from Eurostat, the EU’s statistics agency, which compares obesity levels in 19 countries from 2008/2009.
Only the U.S. and Ireland, which are not included in the league table, have higher obesity rates in the developed world.
The latest table shows that only the former Soviet states of Latvia and Estonia – where one in five women is obese – approach the UK’s unenviable league-topping figure of 23.9 per cent. Women in Malta are catching up fast with rates of 22 per cent.
Fifteen per cent of women in Germany are obese, while they are slimmer still in France (12.7 per cent) and Italy (9.3 per cent).
The report says it is ‘particularly significant’ that a third of men in the UK are obese between the ages of 45 and 64. Overall, 22 per cent of British men are obese – and twice as many are overweight, say experts.
Neville Rigby, director of policy and public affairs at the International Obesity Forum, said the British led the field in obesity – but in almost all developed countries two-thirds of adults are overweight or obese.
‘Levels of fatness are increasing all the time,’ he said. ‘They go from overweight to obesity and affect more than 60 per cent of adults in most countries.
‘The recession is likely to make things worse, as people find they cannot afford the expense of buying healthier foods and fill up on fatty and sugary junk foods.’
The National Audit Office estimates that obesity causes at least 30,000 deaths a year in the UK, through conditions such as cancer, heart disease, strokes and diabetes.
It is shown to shorten lifespan, with individuals carrying 4st extra in weight at risk of losing three years in life expectancy.
The Body Mass Index measurement is used to calculate whether an individual is a healthy weight or not. This is calculated by dividing weight (in kilos) by the square of his or her height (in metres).
Under 18.5 is underweight, 18.5-25 is a healthy weight, 25-29.5 is overweight, 30-35 is obese and over 35 is very obese. It means, for instance, a 5ft 6in woman weighing 14st would have a BMI of 30 and would be seen as obese. A 6ft man weighing 16st also has a BMI of 30.
The formula has been criticised because it may penalise those who have a lot of muscle, said Mr Rigby, but he added: ‘Everyone knows when it’s fat.’
The report follows estimates made earlier this year in The Lancet medical journal which found that if current trends continue, the size of the obese population in the UK will increase by 11million over the next two decades – up from 15million at present.
By 2030 the problem will trigger a startling number of illnesses.
There will be almost half a million more cases of heart disease and there will be around 700,000 extra cases of diabetes, with 130,000 more developing cancer as a consequence of their weight.
Experts blame abundant energy-dense food, too little exercise and lack of will by policymakers to curb over-consumption. The Eurostat report links obesity with levels of education, saying that the better educated tend to be slimmer.
THE FULLER FIGURES: THE TOP 20 BIGGEST IN EUROPEPercentage of population classed as clinically obese:
COUNTRYWOMEN 18+COUNTRYMEN 18+
Figures were not available for Denmark, Ireland, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Finland and Sweden
Experts have been calling for ‘fat’ taxes on unhealthy food and a ban on advertisements aimed at children.
Tam Fry, of the National Obesity Forum campaign group, said education was key to fighting obesity.
‘Until the UK puts domestic science properly back into the school curriculum, many women will continue to rely on cheap, ready meals and fast, processed foods for their families and themselves,’ he added.