More than half of people in the European Union are overweight or obese and Britons are the fattest, a report said today.

A quarter of adults in the UK are obese, ahead of Ireland (23%), Malta (22%), Iceland (20%) and Luxembourg (20%).

At the other end of the scale, 10% of Italians are obese, while the figure is 11% in Holland and France.

On average, just over 15% of the EU adult population is obese.

The study, from the European Commission and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), examined the health of people in 31 countries, including the 27 European Union member states.

It found that adults in the UK drink 10.8 litres on average of alcohol every year - the same as the EU average.

The figure is more than Germany (9.9 litres), Greece (9) and Italy (8.1) but less than France (12.6) and Spain (11.7).

Among 15-year-olds, 40% of those in the UK, Denmark, Lithuania, Finland, Bulgaria and Estonia report having been drunk at least twice in their lifetime.

The EU average was 30% of girls and 38% of boys, with much lower rates in Mediterranean countries such as Malta, Greece, Portugal and Italy, as well as Switzerland and France.

The report found that life expectancy was high in the UK (77.3 years for men and 81.4 for women) but lagged behind other countries when it came to number of years spent in good health, without physical limitation.

Among British men, the number of years spent in good health fell behind other countries including Malta, Greece, Holland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Switzerland.

Among women, the UK fell behind countries including Denmark, Malta, Greece, Iceland and Switzerland.

Meanwhile, the UK sits with Germany, Romania and Italy as the countries with the highest number of cases of measles.

However, more than eight out of 10 Britons reported good health compared with the European average of 67%, and boys and girls in the UK tended to do more exercise than several other countries.

Teresa Nightingale, general manager for the World Cancer Research Fund, said: "The fact that so many people in the UK are obese is a real cause for concern because there is convincing evidence that excess body fat increases risk of six types of cancer, including breast cancer and bowel cancer.

"An estimated 19,000 cancer cases could be prevented in the UK every year just through people being a healthy weight.

"In fact scientists now say that, after not smoking, maintaining a healthy weight is the most important thing you can do for cancer prevention.

"This is why we recommend that people aim to be as lean as possible without becoming underweight."