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Home Truths: Are we Brits healthier and happier than our European counterparts?

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Has the imminent arrival of the Olympics spurred you on to start exercising? If so, you will be in good company. A study carried out by the European Commission and published by the British Heart Foundation found that, on average, we Brits already exercise more regularly than our neighbours in Germany, Spain, Italy and France. But does this mean that we’re healthier than our European counterparts? In many areas, yes – but we don’t necessarily believe it.

State of mind Of the five countries compared by YouGov SixthSense – Britain, France, Italy, Spain and Germany – more than half of the British asked think we are the most stressed nation, only beating France in the perception of happiness stakes. When asked about personal health concerns, too, three-quarters of us believe that the UK has the highest proportion of obese people in Europe, almost a quarter of us are worried about cancer, while one in five is anxious about heart disease. But are we right to feel so glum? Does our low self-esteem have any basis in reality? One person who believes we are being hard on ourselves is YouGov SixthSense research director James McCoy: “When it comes to health matters, the British do not see themselves in a very favourable light in comparison with other European countries,” he says. “To a certain extent, statistics suggest that this view may be justified, at least in terms of diet and weight [research in recent years has found Britain to have the highest rate of obesity in Western Europe]. However, on issues such as cancer, concern appears to outweigh actual incidence.” Our worries about cancer, in particular, are perhaps out of proportion with the most recent health statistics. While it is perfectly normal to be concerned about this serious disease, you may be surprised – and reassured – to learn that, according to a report by the World Cancer Research Fund, the UK has only the 22nd highest rate of cancer in the world, considerably lower than France at number six, Germany (16) and Italy (18). Of the five nations in the YouGov survey, only Spain is lower, at number 31. Call to action So now is our chance to take action. With the achievements of Team GB to spur us on, it is hoped that this summer will see even more Brits making a real effort to get active and opt for a healthier lifestyle. That’s why the NHS has teamed up with the sports psychologists at Loughborough University to create an online quiz aimed at encouraging people to try new forms of exercise. Take the fun 15-minute test to discover the perfect sport for your age, fitness level and goals, personality and skills, then follow the links to find sports centres and clubs for wherever you live in the UK. • To take the quiz, visit

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