Brussels, 05 May 2003
The image of healthy Europeans engaging in their favourite pastimes of skiing and football has taken a blow following the release of a new Spanish study on EU lifestyles.
Sweden is officially the most active nation in the European Union, with Ireland, Austria and Finland not far behind, according to a study of sedentary lifestyles in the 15 Member States.
At the other end of the scale, Portugal has the unfortunate position as the least active nation in the EU, followed by Belgium and Spain.
The research, carried out by the department of epidemiology at the University of Navarra, shows overall that around 62% of EU citizens lead unhealthy lifestyles, watching too much television, playing computers, or just spending long periods sitting down.
Chief researcher Dr Miguel Martinez-Gonzalez concludes in his report – published in the International Journal of Epidemiology – that the EU is facing a "substantial health" problem. He said more effort is urgently needed to stop this trend.
The study surveyed around 1 000 people from each Member State on their lifestyle habits and choices. The findings in each country were used to create a ranking based on the percentage of respondents with low energy expenditure. To be classed as sedentary, a person had to report an above average number of hours sitting down, or spend under 10% of their spare time engaged in strenuous exercise or sport.
From this, nearly 88% of Portuguese people do not exercise enough, leading to sedentary lifestyles. In the most active country, Sweden, the results are still troubling, with around 43% spending too much time idle. Lack of exercise is a well-known contributing factor to a number of health issues affecting Europe, such as diabetes, obesity and heart disease. Coupled with poor diet and smoking, Europeans are putting their health at great risk.
Despite public health campaigns and efforts to better inform Europeans, "The prevalence of sedentary lifestyles in the EU is high, especially among obese subjects, less-educated people and smokers," noted the survey.
Michel Claessens, speaking for the Research DG of the European Commission, said: "These results are a wake-up call for Europeans. As policy-makers, we think the EU has been putting a great deal of effort into improving Europeans' health – in fact it's a major theme in the current EU research Framework Programme – but it is clear more can be done."
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