Obesity has increased most among young women, the working class and people living outside the main cities, a new study by Statistics Sweden shows. The number of people classed as overweight has also increased substantially over the past few decades.
“Obesity today is a disease of national concern, as it permanently affects a large proportion of the population,” the report said.
The authors had little comfort for people hoping to blame their weight on their genes:
“The most important reason for the spread of obesity is changes in lifestyle. It is unclear how great the effect of inherited factors is, but given that the genetic makeup [of the country] cannot have changed in a few decades, the greatest reason for the problem of overweight and obesity must be that people are eating the wrong foods and exercising too little,” the report said.
People with a body mass index (BMI) over 30 are classed as obese. The rate of obesity is roughly the same for women as for men, with ten percent of both sexes falling into the category. The rate of obesity has increased most among young women, who have now nearly caught up with men of the same age. In middle age, obesity is still more common among men.
Obesity has increased in all socio-economic groups, but the increase has been greatest among the working class, and particularly working class men.
People living in rural areas are almost twice as likely to be obese as people in major cities. The obesity rate among women in the major conurbations has not increased substantially over the past ten years, Statistics Sweden says.
The number of people classed as overweight, meaning a BMI of between 25 and 30, has also increased. In 1980, 22 percent of women were overweight, compared to 26 percent in 2005. For men, the figure was 41 percent, up from only 30 percent in 1980. This means that over half of Swedish men are overweight or obese for the first time.
The study is based on self-reported figures on weight and height collected regularly since the early eighties. The authors point out that the Body Mass Index has certain limitations, as it does not take into account how much of an individual’s body is composed of fat and how much is muscle.