Obesity is a major underlying risk factor for the most common chronic diseases (coronary vascular disease, diabetes and some types of cancer) affecting European populations. It is estimated that if current increasing trends are not reversed, obesity may become the most serious health threat in the Western world second only to tobacco. Several studies conducted in past decades have already indicated that the prevalence of obesity has been slowly, but steadily increasing in Europe, as well as in most other economically developed and even developing countries. In this way, it is quickly becoming a public health threat throughout the European community and if left unaddressed, an obesity epidemic may result in unfavourable economic and societal consequences.
Prevention of obesity is, therefore, a major component of an integrated European public health chronic disease prevention strategy. Obesity is a result of imbalance between energy intake and expenditure and is modulated by other lifestyle factors such as tobacco and alcohol. However, although the metabolic mechanisms leading to imbalance between total energy intake and total energy expenditure are well understood, knowledge is still limited on the specific nutritional and other lifestyle factors that are related to the energy intake-expenditure imbalance. Furthermore, the failure of the overall current guidelines to reduce the obesity rates in Europe suggest that those determinants vary across European areas, population groups, between men and women, age groups and by global lifestyle characteristics.
A better identification and understanding on the determinants of obesity in different European populations will provide a sound scientific basis for the EU and national public health authorities in developing more tailored and specific guidelines to reduce and prevent the obesity trends throughout Europe.