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What is Obesity?

In many countries in the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) European Region, the prevalence of obesity has tripled since the 1980s. It is rapidly becoming one of the most significant public health policy challenges of the 21st Century.

The number of those affected continues to rise at an alarming rate, particularly amongst children. It is estimated that as many as 1 in 2 adults can be classed as overweight, and in certain countries, over 1 in 5 will be classed as obese.Obesity is reckoned to already be responsible for between 2-8% of public health costs and between 10-13% of deaths within the European Region*.


«Obesity is an excess of body fat that frequently results in a significant impairment of health. Obesity results when the size or number of fat cells in a person’s body increases. A normal-sized person has between 30 and 35 billion fat cells. When a person gains weight, these fat cells first increase in size and later in number.»

Michael D. Myers (All rights reserved)

Body Mass Index (BMI) is a simple index of weight-for-height that is commonly used to classify underweight, overweight and obesity in adults. It is defined as the weight in kilograms divided by the square of the height in metres (kg/m2).

For example, an adult who weighs 70kg and whose height is 1.75m will have a BMI of 22.9.
BMI = 70 (kg) / 1.752 (m2) = 22.9

For adults over 20 years old, BMI falls into one of the following categories:

IMCNutritional Status
Below 18.5 Underweight
18.5 - 24.9 Healthy weight
25.0 - 29.9 Overweight
30.0 - 39.9 Obese
Above 40 Very obese

What are the consequences of Obesity?

Two potential consequences: mortality and morbidity

  • Mortality: obesity is one of the primary causes of preventable death. It can reduce life expectancy by 6-7 years, or up to 20 years in the case of severe obesity.
  • Morbidity: obesity can have significant psychological and physical side-effects, and is a leading risk factor in a number of chronic illnesses. These can include increased likelihood of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, osteoarthritis, obstructive sleep-apnea and increased risk of succumbing to strokes and certain types of cancer.

Why is Obesity a public matter?

Abstract from the WHO Regional Office in Europe website:

Obesity and its related diseases are more prevalent among groups with low socioeconomic status. Those on lower incomes tend to consume more meat, saturated fat and sugar, and those on higher incomes, more fruit and vegetables. In addition, poorer population groups usually have less access to sport and fitness facilities, which limits the exercise they take.

The cost to society from inadequate food habits and lifestyle and obesity is enormous. Up to 6% of health costs in the WHO European Region are due to obesity in adults. In addition, there is an indirect cost due to the loss of lives, productivity and related income that is at least two times higher.
In Spain, for example, the total cost attributable to obesity is estimated to be €2.5 billion per year. People suffering from obesity or from a chronic disease are also more likely to be absent from work due to ill-health. Finally, other social costs, such as underachievement in school and discrimination at work, must be taken into account.

*Source : WHO