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Health matters: obesity and the food environment

Nearly two-thirds of adults (63%) in England were classed as being overweight (a body mass index of over 25) or obese (a BMI of over 30) in 2015.

In England, the proportion who were categorised as obese increased from 13.2% of men in 1993 to 26.9% in 2015 and from 16.4% of women in 1993 to 26.8% in 2015. The rate of increase has slowed down since 2001, although the trend is still upwards.

The prevalence of obesity is similar among men and women, but men are more likely to be overweight.

In 2015 to 2016, 19.8% of children aged 10 to 11 were obese and a further 14.3% were overweight. Of children aged 4 to 5, 9.3% were obese and another 12.8% were overweight. This means a third of 10 to 11 year olds and over a fifth of 4 to 5 year olds were overweight or obese.

In summary, nearly a third of children aged 2 to 15 are overweight or obese and younger generations are becoming obese at earlier ages and staying obese for longer.

It is estimated that obesity is responsible for more than 30,000 deaths each year. On average, obesity deprives an individual of an extra 9 years of life, preventing many individuals from reaching retirement age. In the future, obesity could overtake tobacco smoking as the biggest cause of preventable death.

Obesity increases the risk of developing a whole host of diseases. Obese people are:

  • at increased risk of certain cancers, including being 3 times more likely to develop colon cancer
  • more than 2.5 times more likely to develop high blood pressure - a risk factor for heart disease
  • 5 times more likely to develop type 2 diabetes

Reducing obesity, particularly among children, is one of the priorities of Public Health England (PHE). PHE aims to increase the proportion of children leaving primary school with a healthy weight, as well as reductions in levels of excess weight in adults.

PHE is working to significantly reduce childhood obesity, contributing to the delivery of the government’s Childhood Obesity Plan.