Ireland has second highest obesity rate in EU, survey finds

People aged 65-74 most likely to be obese, with rates highest in Border counties

Ireland has the second highest rate of obesity in the European Union, with more than a quarter of the adult population classified as such, new figures show.

A survey on weight by Eurostat, the EU’s statistics agency, found that 26 per cent of Irish adults were obese in 2019, well ahead of the EU average of 16 per cent and trailing only Malta, where the rate was 28 per cent. In a similar 2014 survey, Ireland was ranked seventh, with an obesity rate of 18 per cent.

Ireland fares better in terms of the proportion of the population considered overweight; a combination of obese and “pre-obese” individuals.

With 56 per cent of adults in the State classified as overweight, the survey ranks Ireland towards the middle of the 27 EU countries, with the highest share of overweight adults (64 per cent) found in Croatia and Malta. The lowest share was found in Italy and France, where 45 per cent of adults were overweight.

People are considered overweight if they have a Body Mass Index (BMI) – a measure of a person’s body fat based on their weight relative to their height – of 25 or more. BMI is calculated by weight in kilogrammes divided by the square of height in metres.

Adults with a BMI of 30 or higher are considered obese, while a BMI in the range 18.5-25 is classified as normal.

Overall, the Eurostat figures show that just over half of all adults in the EU are overweight. While 45 per cent had a normal weight in 2019, 53 per cent were classified as overweight and almost 3 per cent regarded as underweight.

A Eurostat spokesman said obesity is a serious public health problem as it significantly increases the risk of chronic conditions such as cardiovascular disease, type-2 diabetes, hypertension and certain forms of cancer.

“For specific individuals, obesity may be further linked to a wide range of psychological problems,” he said. “For society as a whole, it has substantial direct and indirect costs that put a considerable strain on healthcare and social resources.”

The study found that more men than women were overweight in all 27 EU member states. In Ireland, 61 per cent of males were overweight compared to 49 per cent of females. However, there is little difference in obesity rates with 26 per cent of Irish men and 25 per cent of Irish women considered obese.

With the exception of individuals aged 75 and over, the EU figures show the older the age group, the higher the share of overweight people.The highest rate of obesity in Ireland (32 per cent) was recorded in the 65-74 cohort.

Eurostat said a pattern was also clear for education levels, with the share of overweight people falling as the educational level rises.

County profiles

In Ireland, people living in the Border region – counties Cavan, Donegal, Leitrim, Louth, Monaghan and Sligo – were most likely to be overweight or obese. Some 59 per cent of adults in the region were overweight, with 30 per cent obese.

The west region – counties Galway, Mayo and Roscommon – and the south west – Cork and Kerry – had the lowest proportion of overweight people, 53 per cent.

The Irish figures were collated by the Central Statistics Office from a survey of about 7,600 individuals as part of the Irish Health Survey 2019.