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Last Updated: Wednesday, 16 April, 2003, 16:09 GMT 17:09 UK
Portugal 'laziest nation in Europe'
By Pat Hagan

Watching television
THE international pastime
Portugal is officially the laziest nation in the European Union, with the UK ranked tenth out of the 15 member states, according to a study.

Research into who leads the most sedentary lifestyles suggests that nearly 88% of Portuguese inhabitants get hardly any exercise and spend lots of time sitting down.

Second is Belgium, where 71% of people lead an unhealthy lifestyle, followed by Spain, Germany, Greece, Italy and France.

It's true
Tiago Craveiro
The study, carried out by scientists at the University of Navarra in Spain, shows 59.4% of people in the UK exercise too little and spend too much time watching TV or sitting at computers.

The healthiest people were the Swedes, where only 43% have sedentary habits. Ireland, Austria, Finland and Luxembourg also have comparatively active lives, it shows.


Lack of exercise has become recognised as a major risk factor for obesity, diabetes and heart disease.

But despite public health campaigns to persuade more people to become more active and eat more healthily, it's unclear what proportion of the EU population falls into the risk category.

Percentage of respondents with low energy expenditure
Portugal 87.8
Belgium 71.7
Spain 71.0
Germany 71.0
Greece 70.0
Italy 69.3
France 68.5
Netherlands 62.0
Denmark 61.4
UK 59.4
Luxembourg 57.5
Finland 48.6
Austria 46.8
Ireland 44.1
Sweden 43.3
The latest study set out to identify the scale of the problem by quizzing around 1,000 people from each EU member state on their lifestyle habits.

Each one had to complete a questionnaire detailing their attitudes to physical activity, body weight and health.

To be classed as sedentary, a volunteer had to either spend less than 10% of their leisure time engaged in sporting or strenuous activities, or an above average number of hours sitting down.

The results, published in the International Journal of Epidemiology, showed a wide variation in levels of exercise across Europe but with worryingly high levels of inactivity in Mediterranean countries.

In 11 member nations, an average of 50% of people were living unhealthy lifestyles and in the remainder it was over 70%.

Big problem

Researchers, led by Dr Miguel Martinez-Gonzalez from the department of epidemiology and public health at Navarra University, concluded the findings indicate that the EU is facing a "substantial health" problem and said prevention efforts are "urgently needed".

In a report on their findings they said: "This survey appears to be the first attempt to comprehensively analyse sedentary lifestyle all over Europe.

"The prevalence of sedentary lifestyles in the EU is high, especially among obese subjects, less-educated people and smokers. Cultural and demographic differences are still high between north and south countries (in the EU) and could explain a great part of the difference in sedentary lifestyles."

Fiona Kirkwood, cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation said: "This is an important new study which further adds to our understanding of trends in sedentary lifestyles across the EU, particularly among high-risk groups.

"It shows prevalence of sedentary lifestyles in the UK, along with Portugal, Belgium and Spain is amongst the worst in the EU and that groups which already have a high risk of heart disease - such as the obese, smokers and less well-educated - also appear to have lower levels of activity."

Tiago Craveiro, spokesman for the Secretary of State for Youth and Sports in Portugal, told BBC Online the government was already aware that the country has one of the worst records for activity in Europe.

"It's true, our numbers tell us the same thing. The government is starting a programme this summer to raise public awareness about the problem," he said.

Country profile: Portugal
19 Mar 03  |  Country profiles
Sedentary women risking health
25 Feb 03  |  Health

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