Europeans are increasingly obese, whether McDonald’s believes it or not

You wouldn’t necessarily expect to get health insights from McDonald’s—but it doesn’t mean the company isn’t offering them. At an analyst conference this week, McDonald’s CEO Don Thompson revealed that he’s lost 20 lbs (9 kg) over the past year, though he still eats his company’s fast food every day. He says the weight loss is due to being more active. And he added that it’s rare to see “very, very heavy” Europeans since they tend to walk a lot.

We don’t know how Thompson might define either “rare” or “very, very heavy,” but the increase in obesity among Europeans is striking. In the UK and France, for example, the percentage of the adult population qualifying as obese has roughly doubled since the early ’90s. In 2012, 52% of adults in the European Union qualified as “overweight” or “obese,” according to the OECD. (Both “overweight” and “obese” are defined as certain ranges of body mass index, which is a measure of height compared to weight.) Evidence suggests that it’s more common among poorer and less-educated people.

Obesity in the EU

In recent years, McDonald’s has added healthier items like salads and egg-white breakfast sandwiches. But a recent study found that though US fast-food chains are advertising healthier eating, the food they serve has gotten only marginally healthier overall. Even McDonald’s 400-calorie menu is full of sugar, sodium and preservatives. Nor is the chain shying away from its standard heavy-hitting options. Last week, it released the Mega Potato in Japan: twice the regular serving size of french fries, delivering 1,142 calories.

Europe is the second-largest regional market for McDonald’s with 7,400 stores. In the UK, France and Germany it is the country’s most popular fast food restaurant. This year, fast food’s market share has finally surpassed that of traditional restaurants in France. That occurred in the UK in 2012.

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