Skip to main content

Tackling Obesity: What the UK can learn from other countries

In this report, the third in our series on obesity, we examine topical obesity intervention strategies from around the world to frame the question: can the UK learn from policy abroad? This is not to suggest that any country has unequivocally burst the obesity bubble, but there are countries, regions, cities and towns that have explored approaches that the UK has not; we therefore wanted to case-study some of these to inform a discussion on potential insights and transferrable learning.


The UK has been considering solutions to the obesity crisis for more than 20 years. It is estimated that the government now spends around £600m on obesity prevention programmes annually – a seemingly significant investment, yet roughly equal to one percent of the total health and social cost of obesity in the UK (McKinsey Global Institute, 2014). The prevalence of overweight and obesity among adults and children has never been higher in the UK, so what the country has spent and implemented to date is not nearly enough.

Case studies

This report presents ten case studies of government obesity intervention in six countries across three continents. This work updates our review of international obesity programmes presented in ‘Careless eating costs lives’ (James & Beer, 2014) and explores economic, social and cultural themes considered in our follow-up report ‘Fat chance?’ (Parkhurst, 2015). We start with national level policy, examining evidence from food and beverage taxation in Mexico and Hungary, with further evidence from Berkeley, CA. We also review Japan’s controversial ‘metabo law’ weight intervention, and the same country’s pedagogic Shokuiku school lunch programme. At the sub-national level we summarise two 5-year programmes of activity, from Massachusetts and New Hampshire (USA); then a large-city campaign in Oklahoma City (USA), and small-city campaign in Seinäjoki, Finland. We conclude the case studies with a review of EPODE at the town-population level, in France.