UK is third fattest nation in Europe – fuelled by a diet of booze

Laura Donnelly
The WHO said the trends threatened to cut short the lives of generations growing up on a diet of junk food and alcohol - PA

The UK is now the third fattest nation in Europe – fuelled by its boozy lifestyles, the World Health Organisation has warned.

Research on 53 countries found Britain rising up the obesity league tables, and among the “world champions” for alcohol consumption.

The WHO said the trends were “alarming” and threatened to cut short the lives of generations growing up on a diet of junk food and alcohol.

The study of 900 million people found that only Malta and Turkey have higher levels of obesity than Britain, which has risen from fifth place, in just six years.  

The UK’s alcohol consumption levels are among the highest in Europe, on a par with countries such as Poland and Latvia, the international statistics.

We hold the horrible world record of being the world champions in alcohol consumption

Dr Claudia Stein

Officials warned that such habits are likely to be a “huge contributor” to Britain’s obesity rates.

On average, Britons drink 10.7 litres of pure alcohol a year, compared with a European average of 8.6.

In total, 27.8 per cent of adults are obese, the international study shows, while 63.7 per cent are classed as overweight or obese. The worsening trends have seen Britain overtaken Lithuania and Andorra for obesity.

Dr Claudia Stein, director of the division of Information, Evidence, Research and Innovation, WHO Regional Office for Europe, said the trends threatened to “jeopardise life expectancy,” with obesity and alcohol linked to a host of medical conditions, including diabetes and heart disease.

“Adults’ alcohol consumption is a huge contributor to obesity, and Britain has overtaken the European average,” she warned, highlighting the fact that drinking levels in Europe are the highest in the world.

“We hold the horrible world record of being the world champions in alcohol consumption. That’s not good and its especially not good for the next generation,” she said.

The official said the obesity trends were “alarming” – with high levels seen among children as young as 11.

Tam Fry, from the National Obesity Forum, said: "The UK is third from bottom on the WHO's list because for two decades successive UK governments have done virtually nothing to confront an increasing obesity epidemic.”

He said millions of children were now so overweight they were doomed to die before their parents – an “appalling personal tragedy”.

And he urged adults to rein in drinking habits that are fuelling rapidly expanding waistlines.

“Adults forget just how many calories are contained in alcohol and heavy drinkers certainly will have little idea that they could be knocking back a quarter of their recommended daily calorie allowance before even touching a bite to eat.”

On Wednesday deputy Labour leader Tom Watson will give a speech to fitness experts setting out how he reversed his type 2 diabetes, after swapping beer and curries for avocado salads.

Mr Watson will say the radical diet – which cut out all refined sugar – means he no longer has to take medication for diabetes, as he announces Labour’s ambitions to halt the rise of diabetes, within one Parliamentary term, if the party wins power.

Caroline Cerny, from the Obesity Health Alliance said “It's very concerning to see the UK has one of the highest levels of adults with obesity in Europe. However this is hardly surprising when we live in an environment that steers us towards unhealthy choices with marketing, promotions and super-size portions.

“We need the Government to fully implement measures outlined in their childhood obesity strategy such as 9pm watershed on junk food adverts to help ensure the next generation have the opportunity to grow up healthy.”

Dr Alison Tedstone, chief nutritionist at Public Health England, said: “Most countries are facing unheralded levels of obesity – it’s taken many years for us to reach this point and change will not happen overnight.

“England is at the forefront of addressing obesity – our sugar and calorie reduction programme and the government’s sugar levy are world-leading but this is just the beginning of a long journey to tackle the challenge of a generation.”

She said a new campaign encouraging people to have "Drink Free Days "aimed to help people cut down their alcohol intake.  

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: “We know obesity is one of our greatest public health challenges, which is why our ambitious obesity plans go further than other countries. Our regulations on junk food advertising to children are some of the toughest in the world – while our soft drinks industry levy has removed billions of tonnes of sugar from children’s diets.

"We recently set out proposals to ban energy drinks for children and further plans are underway to reduce their exposure to sugary food and get them moving more in school."