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Fat Chance? Exploring the evidence on who becomes obese

Current political, economic and social discourse on obesity in the UK illuminates the great complexities and myriad socio-economic considerations that inform people’s health, diets, and health seeking behaviour. Recent data published in annual Health Survey for England reports suggest that at least a quarter of the adult population is obese, while two-thirds are overweight, and these rates are rising. Speaking before the House of Lords, Lord McColl of Dulwich, professor and former director at Guy’s Hospital, London, summed up the urgency in addressing the country’s rising weight gain: “The obesity epidemic is the worst epidemic to afflict this country for 90 years; it is killing millions and costing billions and the cure is free” (Lords Hansard, Thursday,
11 July 2013).

The effects on national health services are potentially staggering. In calling for behaviour change regimes, Sir Cyril Chantler, director of UCL Partners, outlines how 80% of health care budgets are now devoted to chronic illnesses and associated acute conditions. However, while general rates of obesity in the UK are known to be rising, it remains very difficult to speak about obesity demographics with clarity and precision. In order for health care interventions and behaviour change policy to be radically effective, target populations must be better understood. This study examines and compiles the wealth of current knowledge and statistics on obesity in England in order to address the question of ‘Who is obese?’. Assessing common trends found in obesity research and comparing them to emergent studies provides important holistic perspectives on the complexity of obesity in the UK. By applying modern risk factors to answer the question of ‘who’ is affected by obesity, this project provides an important evidence base to inform future research into ‘why’ populations become obese, and ‘how’ novel health care platforms might address health seeking behaviour in the country.