Why These Countries have the Lowest Obesity Rates in Europe

By Shaan Khan

Long ago, obesity was a rare disease amongst the few wealthy elites in society that could sit on their bottoms all day and overindulge in food – case in point; Henry VIII, The King of England.

Now, we have entire nations with populations close to being 50% obese.

Obesity has swept over countries like a pandemic, and despite our awareness, the obesity rates continue to climb drastically. Take the US for example, from 2000 to 2017, the obesity rate went from 30.5% to 42.4%.

If the trend continues, obesity will dominate the majority and strain healthcare services and reduce societal productivity, leading to the downward spiral of our economies and humanity’s existence through this depressively passive self-destruction of our health.

That’s why we need some role model examples; countries that, despite their wealth that gives them access to a wide variety of foods, are still managing to keep their obesity rates down and here’s how.

Denmark

Unlike many of its neighbours in Northern Europe, Denmark has managed to keep their obesity rate incredibly low at only 19.70%.

report from WHO shows government intervention in regulating unhealthy diets and their promotion to being a key reason for the successfully low obesity rate. 

While countries such as the UK have only recently introduced a sugar tax, Denmark had a sugar and fat tax in place back in 2012.

The Danish government is against unhealthy food advertising to children, with a self-regulating forum set up for the food industry to abide by the code of responsible food marketing communication to children.

Despite being strict in tackling unhealthy diets, the Danish Government fund many programs and schemes for physical activity. In many other nations, this is uncommon. Typically, private companies and investors promote physical activity via funding while governments do the bare minimum by placing mandatory laws for kids to attend PE class in school.

Unlike countries with the highest obesity rates, the male obesity rate is slightly higher than women in Denmark.

According to nutritional intake, the research by WHO highlights that Denmark receives a balanced amount of nutrients overall. However, a 2007 report shows that Denmark was the top 3 country for saturated fat intake.

Denmark has a happiness score that’s the second-highest in the world, and a major reason why is the healthy lifestyle engrained into modern Danish culture.

Walking and bike riding are prevalent in the country, especially in the capital city, which makes up 88% of the population.

They mostly stick to a Nordic Diet that’s rich in fibre from root vegetables and protein from salmon. Therefore, there are few carbs and fat in the diet, which is the lead cause of obesity when pitted up with inactivity. The Nordic Diet has the power to improve insulin sensitivity and reduce cholesterol levels and blood pressure.

Overall, the nation and its people in general are highly proactive when it comes to being fit and healthy. Many people engage in sports, even in winter conditions such as skiing, ice skating and langlaufing.

The government represent this proactive nature of the people and culture by having one of the best healthcare systems in the world.

However, Denmark has recently seen an uptick in its obesity rates which is a product of global commercialisation bringing in unhealthy products and services into the nation that are popular all around the world, especially in countries with high obesity rates. 

People in Denmark are undoubtedly at battle of not losing their ways to unhealthy foreign trends they see on social media and sold in their stores. Maybe more government regulation is needed?

Other neighbouring countries have similar lifestyles; however, their openness to unhealthy products and services in their countries has had an overall negative effect. 

Italy

This Mediterranean country is close to being representative of obesity rates from the Middle Ages, with only 1 in 10 people being obese in Italy. For decades, Italians have been known as the slimmest people in Europe on average, but what makes Italians so healthy? Many people in America associate Italy with high carb food such as pizza and pasta.

However, the infamous Mediterranean diet many Italians subscribe to is far more diverse than what many foreigners expect and is one of the primary causes of why Italians are so healthy.

While the diet includes a plethora of carbohydrates from famous Italian foods such as pizza and pasta, those are predominantly made up of complex carbs, which are viable in a healthy diet compared to simple carbs found in junk food, since the fewer calories you consume with complex carbs, the more satiated you feel and less likely to binge eat.

In fact, the Mediterranean diet is not dominated by highly processed junk food that you find in countries with high obesity rates. The diet is packed with many other nutritious foods instead such as vegetables, lean meats, fresh fish and legumes.

Accommodating the Mediterranean diet is an average lifestyle enriched by outdoor activities like hiking and biking. Similar to Denmark, Italy has a significant cycling and walking culture and is beginning to spread in the cities where car congestion has become such a nuisance that Italians are now preferring to walk or cycle when travelling around.

Not only do Italians have a well-balanced diet and active lifestyles to reduce the chances of a calorie surplus, Italians also manage to consume on average 8 litres of olive oil per year. While olive oil is calorific, Italians on average consume a reasonable amount in their overall diet where the health benefits outweigh the negatives. The inclusion of olive oil in their diets has been known to reduce the chances of diseases such as type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure.

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