Obesity in Belgium: too much beer and chocolate?

Belgium’s culinary delicacies are easy to appreciate and integrate in your everyday routine (just think about the amazing chocolate, the yummy French  fries in place Jourdan or the almost endless choice of beers you have around the country), but how good are they for your health? And how do they influence the life and health of Belgians?

It is true that Belgium is one of the EU countries with the lowest share of obesity in 2014 among the population aged 18 or over  (14.0%), but the country is also witnessing a slow but constant increase of this data. Moreover, there is a lack of appropriate information and awareness on the issue, which makes the recognitions of the symptoms, the acceptance of the problem and the treatment process more difficult and long. The 2015 EASO survey found, in fact, that 37% of Belgians described themselves as overweight, while they were actually obese.

Among the causes of the growing obesity in Belgium, there are an unhealthy diet and a more sedentary life-style, but the country is not homogenous when addressing the issue. A 2014 study that examined data from four reports of the Belgian Health Interview Survey between 1997 and 2008 found that the Walloon Region had a higher prevalence of obesity than the Flemish Region at the start of the study; however, the prevalence in the Walloon Region remained stable over the survey period, while obesity levels in the Flemish Region increased during that time.

The different reactions to obesity also depend on different regional campaigns of health promotion and prevention. Between 2002 and 2006 Flemish health officials launched a campaign with the main goal of strengthening self-esteem; only after 2008 did healthy eating and increased physical activity become central to the campaign. By contrast, campaigns in the Walloon and Brussels regions launched between 2005 and 2010 included both healthy eating and lifestyles. Nonetheless, the stabilization of obesity in the Walloon Region is important: while the association between physical activity and obesity decreased, the region was able to keep the balance of the obesity rates, not diminishing nor augmenting it, differently from the Flemish and the Brussels regions.

In an attempt to regularize on a national level the obesity rates, the Belgian government proposed to introduce a tax on soft drinks in 2016. The tax should have added 3 euro cents to the price of a one-liter bottle of such drinks. The goal was to diminish the consumption of sugary and fizzy drinks, but it was unfortunately never implemented.

It is important to keep a good balance in life, eating healthy food, exercising enough and paying attention to the amount of alcohol and junk food consumed. Obesity can cause severe damages to the body, affecting our way of living, our physical and mental capabilities and our reactions to the world around us. This doesn’t mean that you are not supposed to enjoy anymore the amazing beers or the tasty Belgian chocolate; it only demands a little more control and concern for your body: balance exercise and healthy food with occasional gastronomic adventures!