How many people in England are obese?

·4 min read
LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 08:  A selection of confectionary and chocolates are seen on a newsagent shelf on December 8, 2016 in London, England. The Committee on Advertising Practice has announced a ban on online advertisements for food and drinks with a high fat, salt or sugar content.  (Photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images)
A proposed sugar and salt tax on foods to tackle the UK's obesity crisis has been shelved by the Government (Getty)

The government's long awaited food strategy has been unveiled to widespread criticism after experts labelled it "thin gruel" that fails to tackle obesity.

The plans, published on Monday, have ditched recommendations from the government's food tsar Henry Dimbleby to introduce a sugar and salt tax to help curb unhealthy eating.

It is understood that officials believe such a move would be “tone deaf” during a cost-of-living crisis.

Speaking on Monday, the prime minister defended the proposals and said the best way to lose weight was to “eat less” as he visited a farm in Cornwall.

Environment secretary George Eustice also doubled down on the approach in the face of criticism from his Labour counterpart, telling the House of Commons: “The report deals at length with obesity.

"We introduced, already, a soft drinks levy that has driven reformulation and later this year … we will introduce new point-of-sale regulations that will also drive reformulation.”

The paper comes amid record high levels of obesity in England among children and adults.

How many people in England are obese?

According to the most recent data from the Health Survey for England, 28% of adults in England, roughly 15 million people, are obese, up from 14.9% in 1993.

A further 36.2% are overweight but not obese.

More than a third of Brits aged 45-74 are obese (NHS digital)
More than a third of Brits aged 45-74 are obese (NHS digital)

Obesity is defined by NHS England as having a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or more.

Men are more likely than women to be obese - 29% compared to 27%, and almost one third of 45-74 year olds are obese, compared to 13% of 16 to 24s.

Researchers have concluded that socio-economic circumstances have a marked impact on obesity levels.

More women than men in the UK are obese, according to the latest figures (NHS Digital)
More men than women in the UK are obese, according to the latest figures (NHS Digital)

In the most deprived areas in England the prevalence of people who are overweight or obese is 9 percentage points higher than the least deprived areas.

How many children in England are obese?

Some 14.4% of reception age children are obese, rising to 25.5% among year six children, according to the National Child Measurement Programme (NCMP).

The programme measures the height and weight of children in reception class (aged 4 to 5) and year 6 (aged 10 to 11), to assess overweight and obesity levels in children within primary schools.

The number of children in the UK has risen sharply as a result of lockdown (NHS digital)
The number of children in the UK has risen sharply as a result of lockdown (NHS digital)

England saw large increases in the proportion of obese children during lockdown.

The report by the NCMP said: "The largest increases in obesity occurred in the most deprived areas of England, showing a widening gap between the richest and poorest children in the country."

The report confirmed a link between deprivation and obesity in young people.

Speaking at the NHS Providers annual conference earlier in the year, Amanda Pritchard, chief executive of the NHS in England, said: “The National Child Measurement Programme statistics provide extremely worrying reading – they show the prevalence of obesity in reception year has increased by almost 50% in just one year and more than one in four children are obese by the time they leave primary school.

“Many children who are living with obesity or are overweight suffer, or run the risk of, physical and mental illness including type 2 diabetes, asthma and depressions.

“These in turn can impact educational attainment and their future life chances, earning potential, happiness and of course longevity.”

Childhood obesity problem and weight loss. Fat boy at a nutritionist appointment. Overweight boy consulting with doctor in office. Doctor examining fat boy in clinic. Doctor measuring overweight boy.
The National Child Measurement Programme reported that a quarter of Year 6 children in England are now obese (Getty)

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Food strategy under fire

Graham MacGregor, chairman of Action on Sugar and Action on Salt, said the government was "in the pocket of the food industry" and had "no desire to bite the hand that feeds it".

When questioned about his decision to ditch the sugar and salt taxes while visiting a farm in Cornwall on Monday, the PM said: “What we don’t want to do right now is start whacking new taxes on them that will just push up the cost of food.”

He added: “The best way to lose weight, believe me, is to eat less.”

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