More than a quarter of UK adults are obese

High risk: Being obese can raise the risk of dying early by 50%.

One of the biggest studies ever of the obesity crisis in Britain is published today. It shows that the average British adult is overweight and faces a much higher risk of serious illness.

Ten years ago, Paul Mason was unable to move because of his own fat. At 70 stone, he was known as the world’s heaviest man.

Eating takeaways and playing computer games, he needed a team of carers to wash, move and feed him as well as adapted doorways, strengthened furniture and other equipment inside his home in Ipswich. He needed to eat for emotional reasons, he said.

The last time he was interviewed in March 2017, he had lost 50 stone. He could move and exercise after gastric bypass surgery and two operations to remove excess skin.

There was a fierce debate then about the cost of care and treatment, and whose responsibility it should be.

He is an extreme case. But a shocking new report published this morning, the biggest-ever study of obesity in Britain, will reignite the argument.

Today, there are 18 million Britons living in the fat “danger zone”, according to the study of 2.8 million people living in the UK.

This means they have a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 25 or over. The healthy range is from 18.5 to 25. Below 18.5 is underweight.

Adults who are even moderately overweight face a surprisingly high threat of suffering from a number of serious conditions — for example, a 140% higher risk of type two diabetes, 28% higher risk of kidney issues and 15% higher risk for heart disease.

With more than a quarter of UK adults classed as obese, and around six in 10 as overweight, health experts say the findings are “hugely worrying” for the country and the NHS.

The study’s author, Christiane Haase, says, “With the number of people living with obesity almost tripling worldwide over the past 30 years, our findings have serious implications for public health.”

National Obesity Forum chairman Tam Fry says, “The numbers are staggering. We’ve brought it all on ourselves. At the turn of the century, there were measures suggested to prevent this kind of disaster, but few medical professionals were interested in properly recording adult BMIs. This is the result, and the profession should be ashamed of itself.”

For the first time in history, more people are suffering from obesity than from starvation worldwide. According to the latest available figures from the World Health Organisation (WHO), approximately 2.3 billion adults are overweight, and more than 700 million people obese.

Obesity affects the entire world irrespective of age, income and country. While the United States, Australia and the United Kingdom are still at the top of the list of nations affected, the countries that have seen the biggest increase in the number of obese and overweight people are in the Middle East and North Africa.

How to cut down?

Is it primarily an individual responsibility? The WHO says obesity is preventable and people’s choices are the key. Should we not simply cut back on fat and sugar, increase our intake of fruit and vegetable and do more physical activity? Simple.

Or is it also down to government and industry? After all, people can only make the right choices when they have the options. Should government tax sugar? Make sure even the poorest can play more sport? And above all, should food manufacturers stop making the cheapest food those with the most sugar, salt and fat?

You Decide

  1. Do you eat too many sweets?
  2. Do shops sell too many cheap, delicious and unhealthy foods?


  1. Make two lists side by side, comparing any really healthy food you ate last week with some of the really unhealthy ones.
  2. Using the Expert Links, look at the NHS BMI calculator. Write down the mathematical formula that this is based on.

Some People Say...

“While nobody should ever be bullied for their weight or food choices, it’s important to make a distinction between health awareness and cruelty.”

Lizzie Cernik, journalist

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Worldwide obesity has nearly tripled since 1975. In 2016, more than 1.9 billion adults, 18 years and older, were overweight. Of these, over 650 million were obese. Nearly 40% of adults aged 18 years and over were overweight in 2016, and 13% were obese. Most of the world’s population live in countries where overweight and obesity kills more people than underweight. Forty-one million children under the age of five were overweight or obese in 2016. Over 340 million children and adolescents aged five to 19 were overweight or obese in 2016. Obesity is preventable.
What do we not know?
Projections for the future show that obesity rates are expected to continue to rise in a linear fashion, particularly in the US, Mexico and England where 35 to 50% of the populations are expected to be obese by 2030. These rates are also expected to increase more dramatically in countries with historically low obesity rates, such as Switzerland and Korea. Children are also deeply impacted where, if the trends continue, there could be 70 million obese children around the globe in 2025.

Word Watch

Body Mass Index
The body mass index (BMI) is a measure that uses your height and weight to work out if your weight is healthy. For most adults, an ideal BMI is in the 18.5 to 24.9 range. For children and young people aged two to 18, the BMI calculation takes into account age and gender as well as height and weight.
World Health Organisation
The World Health Organisation is a specialised agency of the United Nations that is concerned with international public health. It was established on 7 April 1948, and is headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland.


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