Obesity, once considered mostly an American problem, now is prevalent in European countries, where traditional diets have been associated with long life and good health, the World Health Organization said.
Nutritionists from 50 countries opened a three-day meeting in Athens to examine ways to fight a trend among the world's developed nations, where changing diets and more sedentary lives contribute to obesity-related health problems like heart disease, cancer and diabetes.
"Obesity is becoming a very important problem in the European region but also outside Europe," Roberto Dortellini, technical division director of WHO Europe, told The Associated Press. "It is a very major risk to the health of the European population."
In Greece, the problem is particularly acute because many people have turned away from the country's traditional Mediterranean diet toward fast food, officials say.
The problem reaches around the world.
In countries like India and Malaysia, people still wear flab around their waists as a badge of prosperity.
Malaysian Health Minister Chua Jui Meng warned at a conference recently that 25 percent of Malaysia's 23 million people are overweight.
About 64 percent of Americans are overweight. Almost a third is actually obese. In addition, a measurement-based survey of young people found that 15 percent of youngsters ages 6 to 19 were seriously overweight. That is nearly 9 million youths and triple the number in a similar assessment from 1980.