Determinants of Health

Contents

Summary

The number of smokers has decreased over the past 15 years in Belgium. In 2018, the percentage of daily smokers was 15%, which is lower than the EU-15 average prevalence. Men are still more likely than women to smoke daily. Fewer young people (15-24) were daily smokers in 2018 (11% vs 17% in 2013). Daily smoking is less frequent in Flanders than in Wallonia and Brussels. There are important socioeconomic differences in smoking behavior, with a proportion of daily smokers being 2.3 times higher in the lowest than in the highest educated people. Good progress has been observed but prevention should continue and focus on people from lower socio-economic backgrounds. In 2018, 4.1% of the Belgian population were regular e-cigarette users. The prevalence was highest in young men in Flanders and Wallonia. Since the health consequences of this practice are still uncertain, prevention strategies should target these groups.
Alcohol consumption is high in Belgium. The average consumption of pure alcohol in Belgium is 12 liters per capita per year, which is above the mean European consumption (11 litres). This makes Belgium one of the countries with a high disease burden related to alcohol. Hazardous drinking, or the excessive consumption of alcohol over the whole week (more than 21 or 14 drinks per week for men and women, respectively), was reported by 7.4% of men and 4.3% of women. It has decreased in men, which is a favorable trend. Weekly "risky single occasion drinking, (RSOD)", or having at least 6 alcoholic drinks (> 60 g ethanol) at a single occasion, is reported by over 7.6% of the adults (15+). This behavior is nearly 3 times more frequent in men than in women. One in ten young people in the age group 15-24 years reported a weekly episode of RSOD and also one in ten young people met the criteria for problematic alcohol consumption in the past 12 months. Young people are thus a clear target group for alcohol prevention strategies.
Weight excess is an important problem in Belgium like in most industrialized countries. In 2018, about half of the adult population was overweight (49%) and 16% was obese based on self-reported measures; objective measurements revealed even higher figures, respectively 55% and 21%. The overweight and obesity prevalences are higher in Wallonia than in the other regions. After a steady increase since 1997, the prevalence of overweight remained stable in men between 2013 and 2018 in men, but continued to increase in women. Overweight and obesity are strongly related to the socio-economic status with a much higher prevalence among people with a lower educational level. In 2018, among adolescents, the prevalence of overweight (including obesity) was 16% in boys and 14% in girls.  
The level of physical activity is insufficient: less than one third (30%) of the adult population (18 years and older) met the WHO recommendations of doing at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity throughout the week. More men (36%) complied than women (25%). Residents of Flanders (37%) and people with tertiary education (38%) were more likely to meet the recommendations. Among children aged 11 to 18 years, one boy out of five (20%) and one girl out of eight (13%), met the WHO recommendations of performing at least 60 minutes of moderate- to vigorous-intensity physical activity per day.
The Belgian diet is characterized on one side by excessive consumption of red meat, processed meats, and sugar sweetened beverages, and on the other side by insufficient consumption of fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds, milk, eggs and fish.
In 2018, only 13% of the population aged 6 years and over met the WHO dietary guidelines recommending to consume at least 5 portions of fruits and vegetable per day. Sugar sweetened beverages should be avoided, but 20% of the population consumes daily sugary drinks. Nutritional habits seem to be better in Brussels, among women and older people, and people with a higher educational level.