Obesity is a major public health issue with increasing prevalence among adults. However, in Belgium the regional time trends (1997–2008) differed: the prevalence of obesity increased in the Flemish and Brussels Regions, but remained stable in the Walloon Region, the latter still showing the highest prevalence. The purpose of the present study is to explore if the different time trends of obesity prevalence in the three Belgian regions is associated with lifestyle changes.
We used data from four successive cross-sectional waves (1997, 2001, 2004 and 2008) of the Belgian Health Interview Survey. The study was restricted to the adult population, resulting in samples of respectively 8,071, 9,391, 10,319 and 8,831 individuals. In line with the WHO definition, obesity was defined as having a BMI ≥ 30. Differences in regional trends of obesity were investigated through stratified analyses. The association between obesity and survey year, adjusted for lifestyle factors (alcohol consumption, smoking, fruit and vegetables consumption and leisure time physical activity), was assessed via logistic regression models. Interactions were added to the models to explore if the association between lifestyle factors and obesity varied over time.
Obesity was associated with daily alcohol use in the Brussels (OR 0.66, 95% CI 0.50-0.88) and Walloon Regions (OR 0.8, 95% CI 0.6-0.9), with lower tendencies of being obese for daily drinkers. The probability of being obese was lower among smokers in the Flemish (OR 0.7, 95% CI 0.6-0.8) and Walloon Regions (OR 0.7, 95% CI 0.6-0.9) than among non-smokers. A lack of leisure time physical activity was associated with the probability of being obese in all regions (Brussels Region: OR 1.6, 95% CI 1.3-1.8; Flemish Region: OR 1.6, 95% CI 1.4-1.9; Walloon Region: OR 1.8, 95% CT 1.6-2.1). This association decreased significantly between 1997 and 2008 only in the Walloon Region.
The decreasing association between obesity and a lack of leisure time physical activity in the Walloon Region between 1997 and 2008 could indicate that there is an increasing awareness of risk factors for obesity in the Walloon population, which may have resulted in a more favourable evolution of the obesity epidemic.