Obesity is one of the main public health problems in developed countries. It is considered to be a risk factor associated with the genesis or development of the major chronic diseases. The classification of a population by weight and the awareness of its determining factors are essential elements in order to undertake health planning programmes and health promotion projects. In Europe, the prevalence of obesity (BMI 30) is greater in northern countries (7% in men and 9% in women in the Netherlands; 5.3% and 9.1% respectively in Sweden) than in southern countries (Spain: 11.5% in men and 15.2% for women) or further east (Germany: 10.6% in men and 11.6% among women). In the United States, obesity is taking on alarming proportions, with an increase of 8 percentage points between 1976 and 1994, placing the problem at a level of 22.5% of the population classified as obese. The prevalence of obesity in Spain is 13.4%, higher after the age of 45 years, among women and in individuals with a lower educational level. The pattern of geographical distribution evidences a greater prevalence towards the south and south-east, with statistical significance among males. It is necessary to analyze in further depth the factors involved in the genesis of obesity and to institutionalize community health programmes for its prevention, monitoring and treatment.
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