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MEMO/06/417

Brussels, 9th November 2006

Questions and Answers on the Eurobarometer on Health, Food and Nutrition

What kind of issues does the Eurobarometer address?

The main themes addressed in this survey are:

  • The health and physical characteristics of Europeans,
  • Eating habits in the European Union,
  • Diet and problems related to being overweight,
  • The respondent’s physical activity.

This survey was carried out in November and December 2005

Do Europeans consider they are in good health?

More than three-quarters (76%) of Europeans consider that they are in good health. The percentage of respondents who consider that they are in good health is in general higher in the EU-15 than in the Member States that joined the Union in 2004. This healthiness perception seems particularly linked to the respondent’s weight.

Almost a quarter of the respondents declared that they suffer from a long-standing illness or have a health problem. It is noteworthy that in general the Scandinavian countries are more likely to be affected by a longstanding illness or health problem. The existence of health problems seems to be linked to the age, weight and socio-professional situation of the respondent.

What is the average weight and height of EU citizens?

People in the North-West of Europe are in general taller than those from Southern Europe. In most Member States, the average height has increased since 2002 and is now 169.9 cm at European level. The average weight of citizens also varies considerably from one country to another and seemed to be higher in 2005 than in 2002. It is to be noted that people in good health have the lowest body mass index. In 11 out of 15 Member States, the weight of citizens has increased, with the most striking increases being in Luxembourg (2.7 kg), Denmark (1.7 kg) and Ireland (1.6 kg).

A slight majority of European Union citizens (55%) consider that their weight is right. In comparison to the 2002 survey, this figure is more or less unchanged. Women are more critical as regards their weight: far more women (44%) than men (32%) consider that they are too heavy, giving an average of 38% of Europeans thinking that their weight is too high. In comparison to 2002, the level of change varies considerably between countries: the feeling of being overweight has increased quite strongly in Greece (+7 points) and Belgium (+7 points), but has fallen noticeably in Spain (-5 points), Portugal (-5 points) and the United Kingdom (- 5 points).

How do Europeans perceive healthy eating?

A majority of Europeans believe that “healthy eating” means eating a “balanced and varied diet”, but also eating more fruit and vegetables. It is interesting to emphasise that the heaviest people or those who consider themselves to be overweight are more aware of the benefits of eating more vegetables and less fatty food. In the European Union, two-thirds of citizens think that it is easy to eat a healthy diet. An analysis by country of this result reveals however that views diverge quite considerably on this point and in particular the level of satisfaction is lower in a majority of the new Member States.

The lifestyle of EU citizens, in particular a lack of time, appears to be the main obstacle to healthy eating. If the lack of time is mentioned in particular by people with a higher socio-professional status, on the other hand, the youngest respondents, those who left school at an early age and those who are overweight tend to mention more frequently than the other categories that they find healthy food somewhat bland. At European level, approximately one in five respondents declared that he or she had dieted over the last 12 months. Those who have dieted did so either of their own volition or on their doctor’s advice. Women are more likely than men to have dieted or changed their eating habits. Eating more vegetables and less fat are the most frequently mentioned changes in eating habits.

On which grounds do Europeans usually change their eating habits?

Losing weight and staying healthy are the main reasons given by respondents to explain a change in their eating habits. Logically, the heaviest people are the ones who mentioned most frequently “losing weight”, while those who consider that their weight is right mentioned more frequently “staying healthy”, while those in poor health and retired people mentioned more frequently “an illness or health problems”. A strong majority of respondents (83%) agree with the statement that childhood obesity has increased over the last 5 years. More than nine out of ten respondents consider that food advertising and promotion influences children’s food and drink choices.

What kind of measures would Europeans suggest to improve diets?

More information for parents and education for children at school are seen as the best ways of improving children’s diets. Once again the priority given to the different measures proposed varies considerably from one Member State to another. In order to combat childhood obesity, European Union citizens are in favour of more physical activities at school and more education on healthy eating and exercise.

Do Europeans think there is an obesity crisis in the EU?

More than 80% of Europeans consider that there are more adults with weight problems than 5 years ago. In most countries, the percentage of people interviewed supporting this view exceeds 70%. All Europeans seem to be aware of the health risks due to obesity. Almost 95% of European Union citizens agree with the statement that obesity is a health danger.

Do Europeans exercise?

As regards physical activity, a slight majority (51%) of European Union citizens declared that they have performed some physical activity at work. However, the level of this activity is not particularly intense and varies considerably in Europe. Manual workers and self-employed people tend to be far more physically active at work. The level of physical activity of Europeans when moving from place to place seems relatively limited.

Although almost 90% of the people interviewed declared that they had performed some physical activity over the last 7 days by moving from place to place, only 22% of the respondents declared that they had performed a lot of physical activity. Moreover, there seems to be an obvious link between the respondent’s health, weight and the intensity of the physical effort made when moving from place to place.

How do Europeans play sports?

Although almost 90% of EU citizens declared that they had performed some physical activity outdoors over the last 7 days, only 27% described their activity as intensive. In all the countries participating in this survey, this proportion is at least 80%. Few Europeans play sport or participate in recreational or leisure activities in an intensive way. In more than half of the countries, more than 40% of respondents do not have any of these activities.

Young people and those who studied the longest seem to be the most likely to participate in such activities. European Union citizens devoted on average 1.7 days to intense physical activity over the last 7 days. In the EU-15, this average increased from 1.4 days to 1.6 days between 2002 and 2005. The levels of activity vary considerably between Member States.

Do Europeans lead a sedentary life?

Respondents declared that they spend on average just over six hours a day sitting during a normal day. The time they spend sitting obviously depends to a large extent on their occupation and once again the average varies considerably from one Member State to another. Three-quarters of EU citizens declared that the area where they live offers sufficient opportunities to be physically active. Moreover, two out of three respondents consider that local sports clubs and centres offer many opportunities to be physically active. Finally, it is noteworthy that just over half of the people interviewed do not seem to have enough time to take advantage of the facilities in their area to be physically active.

Are Europeans in favour of government action to tackle obesity?

A very clear majority of European Union citizens (85%) are in favour of government action to promote a healthy diet and encourage people to exercise so as to stay at a healthy weight.
The Eurobarometer on Health, Food and Nutrition is available at:

http://ec.europa.eu/health/ph_publication/eurobarometers_en.htm


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