The statistical modelling study has suggested that rates of obesity and overweight in both male and females are projected to increase in almost all countries of Europe in the next few decades.
However, the forecast rates vary throughout the 53 Euro-region countries, with projected male obesity levels ranging from 15% in the Netherlands and Belgium, to 47% in Ireland - while the highest obesity prevalence in females was projected in Ireland (47%), and the lowest in Romania (10%).
The study, from investigators which included the WHO Regional Office for Europe, was presented at the EuroPRevent congress in Amsterdam by Dr Laura Webber from the UK Health Forum in London.
"Our study presents a worrying picture of rising obesity across Europe. Policies to reverse this trend are urgently needed,” said Webber.
The statistical modelling research incorporated all available data on body mass index (BMI) and obesity/overweight trends in all 53 of the WHO's Euro-region countries.
Such modelling "enables obesity trends to be forecast forward providing estimates of the dynamic epidemiology of the disease," said the team.
Definitions were based on the WHO's standard cut-offs: healthy weight (BMI ≤24.99 kg/m²), overweight and obesity combined (BMI ≥25 kg/m²) and obesity (≥30 kg/m²).
In almost all countries the proportion of overweight and obesity in males was projected to increase between 2010 and 2030 - to reach 75% in UK, 80% in Czech Republic, Spain and Poland, and 90% in Ireland, the highest level calculated.
The lowest projected levels of overweight and obesity were found in Belgium (44%), and the Netherlands (47%). Similar trends in overweight and obesity were projected in women, with Ireland again showing the greatest proportion (84%).
Similarly, the projected proportions of male obesity were found high in Ireland (58%), Greece (40%), Czech Republic (38%) and UK (35%). The lowest male obesity prevalence was projected in Romania (10%).
The team also highlighted several other trends, notably that the projections ‘show little evidence’ of any plateau in adult obesity rates throughout Europe.
Multi-factorial projection … but industry at the heart?
In explaining the variations in projected obesity levels between countries the investigators noted the possible effect of economic positioning and the type of market.
"The UK and Ireland, where obesity prevalence is among the highest, possess unregulated liberal market economies similar to the US, where the collective actions of big multinational food companies to maximise profit encourages over-consumption," said Webber and her colleagues.
"The Netherlands, Germany, Belgium, Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Austria possess more regulated market economies,” they added – noting that obesity is, however, a multi-factorial disease.