Obesity in the UK

Obesity in the UK is a growing problem.

The increase in poor quality convenience foods, the prevalence of labour-saving technology, increased car use and more people doing sedentary jobs, means that the population is getting larger all across the UK.

Britain has one of the highest rates for overweight children in Europe, with one in three adults predicted to be obese by 2012. This has enormous implications for both health service providers and individuals, as obesity is directly linked to serious health problems, increased mortality, and a lower life expectancy.

At present, 9,000 adults die an early death each year due to obesity-related illness. Being obese puts you at greater risk of getting high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, osteoarthritis, a stroke, and some forms of cancer.

The number of people who are obese continues to increase at an alarming rate, with almost half coming from disadvantaged or low-income communities.

This article on obesity in the UK is written by Jackie Griffiths, a freelance journalist who writes health, medical, biological, and pharmaceutical articles for national and international journals, newsletters and web sites.

How is it measured in the UK?

The most common method for finding out whether someone is overweight or obese is to use the Body Mass Index (BMI). This is a small mathematical formula that calculates a person’s weight (in pounds), divided by their height (in inches) multiplied by 703. There is a slightly different formula if using metric measurements (kilograms and metres).

  1. A BMI of under 18.5 means you are underweight
  2. 18.5 to less than 25 is within the normal range
  3. 25 to less than 30 means you are overweight
  4. Greater than 30 means you are obese
  5. Greater than 40 means you are morbidly obese

The only drawback with the BMI method of measurement is that it’s not able to distinguish muscle (which is heavy) from fat, and occasionally very fit people (such as bodybuilders) can be classified as obese or overweight due to their weight compared to their size. Because of this, waist circumference is also used to help identify whether someone is overweight or not. A measurement greater than 88cm in women, and 102cm in men, means you have a raised waist circumference and therefore could be overweight.

Trends in the UK


  • 29% of men in the UK are obese
  • 23% of women in the UK are obese
  • 43% of men in the UK are overweight
  • 33% of women in the UK are overweight

Unfortunately, the trend is continuing upwards, with dire predictions about the levels of obesity in the UK in the near future.

Socio-economic factors causing it

Certain socio-economic factors are linked to being overweight:

Household Income – the risk of obesity in the UK increases the lower your household income, especially in women. Obesity is more common in adults employed in manual occupations as opposed to professional roles.

Ethnicity – For men, obesity in the UK is highest among the Black Caribbean and Irish groups, and women are more likely to be obese if they are from the Black African, Black Caribbean and Pakistani sectors.

Age – obesity increases with age, peaking at about 65-74 years old. In this age range, 30% of men and 34% of women are obese.

Other risk factors for obesity include:

  • Being an ex-regular smoker
  • Genetics
  • Lack of exercise
  • Poor diet

Obesity tends to run in families, either because it is inherited and/or because families often have the same diet/exercise patterns. Children with two obese parents have approximately 70% chance of becoming obese compared to children with parents in the normal range, who have only a 20% chance.

Obesity in UK children

Levels of childhood obesity increase the levels of adult obesity, since once you’re very overweight as a child it’s extremely difficult to break that trend. Research shows obese children are twice as likely to become overweight adults as slim children.

In 2007, almost 23% of all children in the UK aged 4-5 were overweight or obese, and nearly 32% of 10-11-year-olds, although the true picture could be even higher.

Various factors contribute to children being overweight, including:

  1. Not walking to and from school
  2. Decreased participation in school sports activities
  3. Watching television every day
  4. Decreased activity levels in teenagers and children
  5. Poor diet
  6. Inherited factors

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Obesity in the UK
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