Half of the Belgian population has overweight, the same as 10 years ago

Published on: 
Thursday, June 27, 2024
Last updated on 27-6-2024 by Lieke Vervoort

49% of the Belgian population has overweight, of which 18% have obesity. That is the result from Sciensano’s Food Consumption Survey conducted in 2022-2023. This percentage remains unchanged compared to the previous survey in 2014-2015. Nearly a third of the population aged 10 years and older is trying to lose weight, among them 21% use dangerous methods to do so. According to Sciensano, weight-related problems are still too common and policy should focus more on reducing health risks related to weight. 

A large part of our population has a weight that poses health risks. 49% of the Belgian population aged 3 years and older has overweight, of which 18% have obesity. The beforementioned figures arise from the calculation of the BMI (Body Mass Index), but are confirmed when calculating the waist circumference and the waist-to-height-ratio of the Belgian population. 22% of the Belgian population has a waist circumference that is defined as a high health risk and 35% has a very high health risk. If we look at the waist-to-height-ratio, 59% of the Belgian population has an increased health risk. 

Older adults, men and low educated groups are more likely to have overweight

The older we get, the more likely we are to have overweight. Older people are most likely to have an increased BMI and a waist circumference and a waist-to-height-ratio that is too high. Among people over 65, 71% have overweight (including obesity), 83% have a waist circumference that indicates a high to very high health risk and 89% have a waist-to-height-ratio related to abdominal obesity. 

Men aged 40 to 64 years old and 65 and older are more likely to have overweight (66% and 80%) than women (56% and 64%) in the same age categories. Adult men are also at higher risk when looking at waist circumference and waist-to-height-ratio compared to women. 

56% of people with a low level of education have overweight (including obesity), compared to 36% of people with high education. The same trend applies after calculating the waist circumference and the waist-to-height-ratio. 

Regional differences

Flanders performs better in terms of weight status indicators related to increased health risks. In Wallonia, 22% have obesity, compared to 16% in Flanders. The proportion of individuals with an increased health risk related to abdominal obesity is higher Brussels than in Flanders. 

Overall, the weight status remains unchanged if we compare the new figures with the figures from the Food Consumption Survey in 2014-2015. “If we look at the waist circumference, we see a decrease from 35% to 30% of people with a very high risk in Flanders. In Wallonia, there are fewer people who have overweight (45%) compared to 2014-2015 (50%) and there are fewer people with high health risks due to their waist-to-height-ratio (56% compared to 61% in 2014-2015)”, says Nicolas Berger from Sciensano. 

How and why do we want to lose weight?

In the Belgian population aged 10 years and above

  • 28% try to lose weight
  • 44% try to maintain their weight
  • 4% try to gain weight
  • 24% do not worry about their weight

More women (31%) than men (24%) try to lose weight. Usually, more people aged 18 to 39 years old (31%) and 40 to 64 years old (35%) try to lose weight. In people over 65 years old, among who we see the highest prevalence of obesity, only 21% wish to lose weight. 

If we want to lose weight, most people do this by changing their eating habits. Half of the people who indicate wanting to lose weight, exercise more and a third eats less. A fifth uses dangerous methods, such as smoking, laxatives and fasting for 24 hours or longer”, says Nicolas Berger, scientist at Sciensano. Only 8% try to lose weight with the help of a professional. 89% of people who want to lose weight indicate that they do it on their own initiative. 18% do it because it was recommended by a doctor, specialist or dietician, 14% were influenced by friend and family. 

13% of the Belgian population between 10 and 64 years old is suspected to have eating disorders. Among 10 to 17 year olds, 18% of girls is suspected to have an eating disorder, compared to 7% of boys. Among adolescents aged 10 to 17 years old, the percentage in Flanders has increased from 4% in 2014-2015 to 9% in 2022-2023. 

These first results of the Food Consumption Survey underline that problems related to weight are common among the Belgian population. Public and political authorities should focus even more on reducing these health risks. 

Read more details in the summary report of the Food Consumption Survey

Visit our website for all results

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