Which Europeans are fattest, laziest and drink most, in charts

December 4, 2012

There's nothing like tales of butter-eating, wine-guzzling, yet somehow-still thin Europeans to add to American angst over holiday calories and upcoming resolutions.

“If my fellow Americans could adopt even a fraction of the French attitude about food and life...managing weight would cease to be a terror, an obsession, and reveal its true nature as part of the art of living," writes Mireille Guiliano, author of the diet book "French Women Don't Get Fat."

Update: Here's how Americans stack up against the Europeans

Well actually, some do -- 13.4 of French women are now obese, a number that's risen sharply in recent decades.


Don't eat these. (Matt Rourke/AP)

It's true that overall, Europeans are fairly healthy. Life expectancy in E.U. member states has gone up by more than six years between 1980 and 2010, to 75 years for men and 82 years for women. But a recently-released report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development found that the prevalence of diseases such as diabetes and asthma has also increased -- in part because of better diagnosis, but also thanks to underlying causes such as drinking, smoking and eating fattening foods. 

Here's a look at which Europeans are most obese, most inactive and drink most:

Alcohol:

Despite common perceptions that the French sip wine all day or that Scandinavians muddle through the long winters with the aid of aquavit, Luxembourg actually tops the list of Europe's alcohol consumers, with nearly 15.3 liters bought per capita annually -- a 12 percent increase since 1980. (The OECD points out, however, that foreigners actually purchase much of that because of Luxembourg's lower-than-average alcohol taxes.) Not counting Luxembourg, Latvia and Romania top the charts of alcohol consumption among adults:

Screenshot: OECD
Screenshot: OECD

Among teenagers, the majority of Lithuanian and Danish 15-year-olds admit to "being drunk twice" in their lives, compared with 36 percent across the entire E.U.:

Screenshot: OECD
Screenshot: OECD

Meanwhile, the supposed dolce vita of the Italians has become more temperate. They've reduced their alcohol consumption by nearly 60 percent since 1980, to a modest 6.9 liters. 

And even though higher taxes and more rigid advertising laws have caused alcohol consumption in the E.U. to decline by 15 percent since 1980, the region still has the highest level of alcohol consumption in the world, and alcohol is the third leading risk factor for disease there, after tobacco and high blood pressure.

The problem is that as parts of Europe sober up, other countries have been drinking more -- and new types -- of alcohol:

There has been a degree of convergence in drinking habits across the European Union, with wine consumption increasing in many traditional beer-drinking countries and vice versa. 

 Obesity:

The rate of obesity has doubled over the past 20 years in the E.U., to 17 percent, making it a "major public health concern," the authors write. Hungarians are the most obese people in the E.U., at 28.5 percent, closely followed by Britain.

Hungary's neighbors, the Romanians, are the most svelte:

Screenshot: OECD
Screenshot: OECD

The authors note the use of taxes on fat and sugar -- such as those recently passed in Finland, France and Hungary -- as potential solutions. However, one such measure in Denmark was recently repealed after it was found to have too detrimental of an impact on consumers and businesses.

Physical activity:

Overall, only one in five children in the E.U. member states say they exercise regularly. The study didn't measure physical activity among adults, but if sedentary children become pudgy grown-ups, the Italians are in trouble. Just 7 percent of girls and 12 percent of boys there reported daily physical activity, while the Austrians were most active: 


Screenshot: OECD

And unfortunately, kids in the E.U. seem to get less active as they get older:

Screenshot: OECD
Screenshot: OECD

 

 

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Max Fisher · December 4, 2012