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Tuesday, 3 September, 2002, 13:21 GMT 14:21 UK
Obesity burden 'outweighs smoking'
Obese man
Obesity causes heart disease and cancer
More people are now falling ill through their couch potato lifestyle than through smoking, suggest Europe-wide figures.

The figures, compiled by the Swedish Institute for Public Health, and revealed at the European Society of Cardiology annual meeting in Berlin on Monday, were accompanied by a call for governments to encourage people to take more exercise.

The study suggests that smoking can be blamed for 9% of all chronic diseases in the EU.

As well as lung cancer, long-term smoking also causes or contributes to heart disease and other serious lung problems such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

However, a combination of sedentary lifestyles and fat-laden diets mean that obesity is an increasing problem for Europe.

In addition, smoking rates have been falling generally in many European countries.

The research suggested that 9.7% of chronic disease could be blamed on lifestyle factors such as diet and exercise.

Dr Aileen Robertson, a regional adviser for nutrition at the WHO in Copenhagen, told the Berlin meeting: "I am not saying that smoking plays no part in ill-health.

"I am saying that diet is as important and we have to get that through because it is not understood at the moment."

Too much fruit

She said that EU farm subsidies were doing little to encourage healthy eating.

"In Spain, Greece and Italy they grow a surplus of fruit and vegetables, but millions of tons are destroyed every year to maintain the market price.

"It is possible to produce enough fruit and vegetables for all of Europe to follow the recommendations by spreading the fresh food across the countries, but current policies do not support this."

A poor diet coupled with little exercise is likely to increase the risks of heart disease, but some kinds of cancer are also heavily influenced by diet and obesity.

Most experts recommend a diet involving five portions of fruit and vegetables a day.

See also:

02 Sep 02 | 4x4 Reports
30 Aug 02 | Health
06 Aug 02 | Health
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