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Obesity Statistics: Facts and Figures in the UK

Obesity is an increasing problem around the world, and particularly prevalent in the UK with the highest rates in Europe. Below we have summarised a number of key reports from the government and NHS regarding obesity in the UK.

Key points: Obesity in the UK

Obesity rates among adults in the UK have almost quadrupled in the last 25 years, and now around 1 in 4 fall into this category. What's more, over 60% of adults are classed as overweight or obese, leaving only 40% of women and 33% of UK men.

Obesity has a high risk of consequences with conditions that can often be overlooked for a number of years before the realisation hits. For example, the NHS states that an obese man is 5 times more likely to develop type 2 diabetes, and an obese woman is 13 times more likely. Type 2 diabetes can often be undiagnosed for a number of years beforehand. You are also 2-4% more likely to develop high blood pressure.

  • 62% of the UK population is overweight.
  • This equates to 58% of women and 68% of men.
  • Nearly 25% of adults are classed as obese.
  • 525,000 NHS admissions were obesity related in 2015/2016.
  • The UK has the largest rates of obesity in Europe.
  • Obesity is responsible for 30,000 deaths a year.
  • Only 26% of adults ate the recommended 5-a-day in 2015.
  • Stationary lifestyles are often to blame.
  • Promoting healthy living (exercise and diet) is key to reducing figures.

The only way to lose weight is willpower. You must be motivated to lose weight, whether you're overweight or obese. The classic formula of exercise and dietary adjustments apply here. This can be combined with medications and surgery if you're struggling to lose enough weight to benefit your health.

Weight statistics in the UK

Weight classifications in the UK

UK weight classifications are related to your body mass index (BMI). Whilst there are some flaws to this process - for example, a bodybuilder will have a high BMI due to muscle so this is not a fair reflection on his or her health - it is overall an indication of a healthy weight in relation to your height.

BMI Calculator

The current BMI classifications according to the NHS are:

  • Underweight - below 18.5
  • Healthy weight - 18.5 to 24.9
  • Overweight - 25 to 29.9
  • Obese - 30 to 39.9

Obesity: Fact and Figures in the UK

Obesity has been on the rise for decades now, for over 30 years in fact. As numbers rise, our tolerance also increases, which can mean being overweight or obese becomes more acceptable. Issues linked to obesity are one of the biggest strains on the NHS so it's important to highlight lifestyle factors and aim to lose weight.

According to our sources, here are some current statistics regarding obesity in the UK:

  • 1 in 4 adults are classed as obese and a further 62% are overweight.
  • This makes Britain has the 2nd highest rate of obesity in the world and the largest in Europe.
  • 48 billion is spent managing the social causes and healthcare of obesity.
  • There are 7 million cases of diabetes, 6.5 million cases of heart disease and stroke and 500,000 cancer cases linked to obesity.
  • Hypertension (high blood pressure) was twice as common in obese adults compared to those with a normal weight.
  • A BMI of over 30 can reduce life expectancy by 3 years.
  • Approximately 68% of men and 58% of women are classed as overweight, however, there are more hospital admissions linked to women.
  • Obesity is generally more prevalent in the north of England.
  • Morbid obesity rates have almost triple since 1993. This is a BMI of over 40.

Obesity and high blood pressure

As mentioned above, you are much more likely to experience hypertension if you are overweight or obese. In fact, this can double your chances. The figures state that 43% of obese men and 37% of obese women have high blood pressure, compared to 21% of men and 18% of women classed as a normal weight.

The link between hypertension and obesity

Other Reports

One of the last big reports into obesity in the UK was collected in 2013 by the UN, which showed the UK as having the highest level of obesity in Europe. As already mentioned, this is nearly 25% of adults (24.9% to be precise), with Ireland close behind. This report was from the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation department.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that 39% of adults are overweight and 13% are obese, or put another way, out of 1.9 billion overweight adults worldwide 600 million are obese. The WHO aren't the only ones to spot an obesity trend because a recent study published in The Lancet compared the body mass index (BMI) of 20 million adults from 1975 to 2014. They found obesity has tripled in men and doubled in women.

Lead researcher Professor Ezzat describes this as 'an epidemic of severe obesity' because the study showed worldwide levels of obesity have risen from 105 million in 1975 to 641 million in 2014.

Based on the current increase over the last few decades, experts predict that by 2050, 60% of adult men, 50% of adult women and 25% of children will be obese. Now a new study has found that nearly 3 in 4 adults will be overweight or obese by 2035. This group would outnumber the 28% who would be classed as being a healthy weight or underweight.

Obesity and children

The government released a report stating that 1 in 5 children in reception year (4-5 year olds) were obese. As children grow older, the rates of obesity increases. By year 6 (10-11 year olds), over a third of children were classed as overweight or obese. The obesity figures are around 20%.

Age Most Deprived Least Deprived
4-5 years old / 10-11 years old 13% / 26% 5% / 12%

The link between family income and childhood obesity is just, if not more, prevalent in children as it is adults. The government report listed in our sources below states that a child is twice as likely to be obese if they are from a deprived area of the UK. In fact, the jump in numbers is huge:

  • 13% of 4-5 year olds from deprived areas are obese.
  • 5% of 4-5 year olds from the least deprived areas are obese.
  • 26% of 10-11 year olds from deprived areas are obese.
  • 12% of 10-11 year olds from the least deprived areas are obese.

As you can see, the results are more than doubled!

In terms of food consumption, 52% of 15 year olds eat the recommended 5-a-day.

How does this happen?

One government report suggests that many parents thought their child was the correct weight. As weight gain is such as gradual process, it can be difficult to see a development of obesity in your own child. Some reports suggest that dietary habits from the parent affect the child throughout their life.

48% of mothers and 43% of father said they thought their child was the right weight.

The issue of body image in the UK is important, especially in children as this can shape their body confidence for the rest of their lives. It affects both ends of the spectrum, whether that's weight gain or weight loss. Only 6% of 15 year olds thought they were the "right size" compared to a massive 34% that thought they were "too fat". The media is said to be a significant contributing factor to teens feeling the pressure of maintaining the "correct" weight, as well as social media and more sedentary lifestyles.

Body image and confidence issues in UK children

Obesity and the NHS

Obesity is classed as the biggest strain on the NHS. The main procedure linked to obesity is bariatric surgery, more simply referred to as weight loss surgery. It may also be referred to as "metabolic surgery". This includes gastric band surgery, gastric bypass surgery, and sleeve gastrostomy. You can only apply for these procedures if you are obese and it is causing issues to your health, which is likely. The results of these surgeries are often life-changing.

Hospital admission linked to obesity significantly affects the 45-54 years age brackets, with the 10 years either side also accounting for a large number of admissions:

Bariatric (weight loss) surgery by age

  • 45-54 years – 30%
  • 35-44 years – 22%
  • 55-64 years – 18%
  • 25-34 years – 12%
  • 65-74 years – 6%
  • Under 16 – 6%
  • 16-24 years – 4%
  • 75 and over – 2%

Over 75% of bariatric surgery procedures are for females with the most frequent age range being 45-54 years old, correlating to the hospital admissions age ranges detailed below.

There is only one prescription medication available in the UK and this is Xenical (Orlistat). The cost of weight loss medication through the NHS in the UK is on the decline (in 2007, the total cost amounted to £51.6 million). From 2016, we can see that Net Ingredient Cost (NIC) was £9.9 million.

One interesting statistic related to obesity and hospital admission is that 67% are female, whilst the overall obesity statistics show that men are more likely to be overweight/obese. One possible reason is that it can be more difficult for women to lose weight, both anatomically and socially.

Weight loss prescription across the UK

Are obesity figures really rising?

Yes. Both obesity and being overweight are steadily on the rise like it has been for a number of decades. Adults in the UK that are classed as "overweight" account for over 60% of the population. It is predicted that if we continue at this rate, half of the population will be obese in a further 30 years.

Will Obesity Become 'Normal'?

Body positive campaigners may argue that we are looking at this backwards. Yes, people are getting bigger, but if it's happening to all of us, surely obesity will become the new 'normal' weight, and the current 'healthy' BMI will represent being statistically underweight?

This could be true if it wasn't for obesity having been linked with an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and several cancers. Cancer Research UK recently stated that they have noted a 45% rise in the number of cancer cases resulting from excess weight. The charity has joined the call for a 'sugar tax' on soft drinks in an effort to curb this trend.

What does obesity cause?

Obesity is linked to a whole host of conditions including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke and many cancers.

There is also a link between weight troubles in childhood and this continually in later life with Susan Jebb (professor of diet and population health at the University of Oxford) agreeing that the path to obesity can start earlier than expected, cited in the NHS article listed below. Obesity may also be linked to deprived areas and low-income families.

We have our dedicated page on obesity that looks into the effects in more detail.

Why are we getting bigger?

A lot of the blame can be linked to our current lifestyles. More jobs are at a desk for 8 or more hours a day, we often need to take transport home to then stay stationary by watching TV. Despite this, full-time employment has the lowest rates of obesity in compared to unemployment.

The link between employment and obesity


Sedentary lifestyles are contributing to our obesity. There's a lack of movement throughout the day. A significant number of adults (26%) do fewer than 30 minutes of physical activity per week. A further 13% are classed as "fairly active". This inactivity increases with age. Slightly unsurprisingly, women are more likely to be inactive (27%) than men (24%).

Age groups and obesity

Sitting still can lead to health problems - not just the obesity-related ones. Tech-neck, backache and sight problems are all linked to computer work too. Unless you're a postman or an exercise significantly in your free time, it's likely you are not getting enough activity.


Approximately 10% of household income goes toward food and drink (including alcoholic beverages), however, this rises to 20% for households with lower incomes. At 10%, this equates to nearly £170 per month.

Around 25% of UK adults ate the recommended 5-a-day fruit and vegetables, around 30% had less than 5 and nearly 40% than less than 3. There is positive news though. The consumption of products such as dairy and bread has been declining, and awareness for eating healthier foods is on the rise. In fact, whilst we're not eating our 5-a-day all the time, we have the top consumption of fruit and vegetables in the EU.

5-a-day percentages across Europe

Only recently did some sauce makers start labeling their jars as 'once a week items', which is a pretty big hint that we're eating the wrong stuff. However, the government's top health advisor Susan Jebb of Oxford University has said that environmental factors have prompted the crisis, not self-control.

"Obesity has increased so greatly over the last few decades...That's not a national collapse in willpower. It's something about our environment that has changed."
Health Advisor at Oxford University, Susan Jebb

Susan Jebb believes that an individual's genes and the wide availability of unhealthy snacks make it difficult to cut down.

Whilst it could be easy to say "exercise more and eat less", we've all been in situations where we don't have enough time or are tired after working all day. This makes nutrition and steering clear of high-calorie foods throughout the day important in maintaining a healthy weight.

What to do next

As obesity is a very gradual process, it allows you to develop bad habits over a number of years, even decades. Losing weight is a difficult process, and it can be extremely hard losing these extra pounds that have taken so long to develop, both mentally and physically.

  • Cut down on fatty, sugary and salt-filled foods. Instead, eat more fruit and vegetables. Cooking from fresh is simple too. Instead of the sugar-laded jar of pasta sauce, open a tin of tomatoes and stir basil and pepper through it. It won't be long until you prefer the taste and remember all the flavours from herbs you can experiment with.
  • Try to move about more. You don't need a gym membership because of walking, running, taking the stairs and playing football in the park are free. If you want to join a gym then some people find classes are more likely to keep them motivated. Swimming is great exercise for those with joint pain or those who haven't exercised for years. An exercise buddy can work wonders too.

Looking to lose weight can benefit nearly all aspects of your daily life. You will reduce the risk of a number of health complications immediately as well as in the future. It's likely to improve your self-confidence and self-worth, and this positivity can transfer to the family and friends who will also reap the benefits of your weight loss as well.

If your BMI is over 27 and you have struggled losing weight, you could benefit from prescription treatment Xenical. This is the only medication of its kind in the UK. For more information about Xenical and weight loss, we have more details on our obesity page.

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