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Why is obesity rising in the UK?

The rising rates of obesity in the UK are a major public health concern for people of all age groups.

Why Is Obesity Rising In the UK? | Juniper

The rising rates of obesity in the UK (and across the globe) are a major public health concern for people of all age groups, including adults and reception-aged children.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the rates of obese and overweight children and adults are steadily on the rise, with 4 million people dying as a result of being obese or overweight each year [1].

Obesity in the UK impacts those living in the most disadvantaged areas, with rates of obesity shown to be 9% higher than those living in less disadvantaged areas. The Health Survey for England also reveals that currently, almost three-quarters of adults aged 45-74 are considered obese or overweight [2].

One of the major factors causing obesity levels to increase is more consumption of high-fat and high-sugar foods that are readily available and mass-produced. An increase in sedentary lifestyles among adults and children has further compounded the issue.

But there are practical steps you can take at an individual level to build healthy habits, rethink your diet and harness holistic weight management programs to help you reach your ideal weight (for good).

What is an overweight BMI?

Healthcare professionals use the body mass index (BMI) to classify if patients are at a healthy weight. The body mass index measures height and weight in relation to one another and to calculate body mass index, you can divide your weight in kilograms by the square of height in meters.

For the adult population, the BMI classification system looks like this [3]:

  • Underweight: BMI of below 18.5
  • Healthy weight range: BMI between 18.5 to 24.9
  • Overweight range: BMI between 25 to 29.9
  • Obese range: BMI between 30 to 39.9
  • Severe obesity: BMI of 40 or above

What classifies obesity?

There are a few ways obesity can be defined but using the BMI classification is the most common approach. Using the BMI to classify obesity, those with a BMI between 30-39.9 is classified as obese, and those with a BMI of 40 or over are considered severely obese [4].

But, BMI isn't the only way we can identify obesity. In fact, this classification system has its drawbacks and can offer a really limited view of a person's overall health. For example, some people might be very muscular and have a high BMI which is made of bone density and muscle mass, not unhealthy levels of excess fat.

In those cases, excess fat is measured by waist circumference which can be a useful measurement program for overweight people or those with moderate obesity [5]. This is calculated by measuring around your waist (above the belly button) and dividing it by your height [4].

Men with a waist circumference of 94cm or over and women with a waist circumference of 80cm or more are considered at risk for developing obesity-related health issues.

Plus, a healthy weight and BMI can also differ based on your ethnic background. What's generally accepted as a healthy BMI score tends to be applied to people with a white Caucasian background [4]. However, ethnic minorities generally have a lower threshold for what's considered overweight or obese.

The NHS outlines that for those with a South Asian, Chinese, other Asian, Middle Eastern, Black African, or African-Caribbean family background, BMI scores fall into these categories [4].

  • Overweight adults: BMI between 23 to 27.4
  • Obese adults: BMI of 27.5 or above

What percentage of the UK is obese?

As published by NHS Digital, the Health Survey for England 2021 revealed 25.9%% of adults in England are obese and 37.9% are considered overweight. The health survey revealed that almost three-quarters of adults aged 45-74 are overweight or obese [2].

The Health Survey for England also showed that men are more likely to be overweight or obese at 68.6% in comparison to 59% of women. Adult obesity in the UK is also on the rise with the proportion of adults who are overweight or obese rising to 64.3% in 2022 from 52.9% in 1993 [2].

Why is obesity rising in the UK?

Obesity is a complex issue and a public health concern both in the adult population and among children, with rising rates of childhood obesity.

Cancer Research UK (CRUCK) has reported that 71% of people will be overweight by 2040 and of that, 21 million people or 36% of adults will be obese by 2040 [6]. So, why is obesity prevalence rising at a staggering rate? The answer is complex and can be boiled down to various factors.

First up, food production, advertising, and the mass availability of foods high in fat are contributing to rising rates of obesity. Over the last 50 years, farming methods have changed and have prioritised cheap, readily available food which is often times more affordable than healthy food.

Plus, portion sizes have also increased which provides more opportunities for people to consume unhealthy foods in higher quantities, too [7].

Inequality is another major contributing factor to rising obesity prevalence. Research shows that people living in the most deprived areas of England are more likely to be overweight or obese at 9 percentage points higher than those in the least disadvantaged areas [8].

Obesity is also higher in women at 39.5% living in the most deprived areas compared to those living in the least deprived areas at 21.9% [9].

The rise of a sedentary lifestyle (meaning higher levels of physical inactivity) is also some of the leading causes of obesity prevalence. The Global Obesity Federation shows that 36% of adults in the UK are not engaging in enough physical activity which is lower than in most other European countries [10].

Children aged 15-19 are also reporting low participation in physical activity which has led to 31% of children between the ages of 15-19 being overweight or obese.

What are the health risks of obesity?

There are various health risks associated with obesity and puts people at an increased risk of a variety of health issues including type 2 diabetes, respiratory disease, heart disease and some forms of cancer.

Type 2 diabetes

Type 2 diabetes is strongly correlated with obesity and occurs when blood glucose levels are too high. Obesity statistics reveal that roughly 8 out of 10 people with type 2 diabetes are considered overweight or obese.

When we break this down further, the stats show that men who have a BMI of over 30 are 7 times more likely to develop type 2 diabetes and women who have a BMI of over 30 are 12 times more likely to develop this type of diabetes [11, 12].

Type 2 diabetes also puts people at risk for a range of medical issues like heart disease, increased risk of stroke, nerve damage, kidney disease and more [11].

Heart disease

When your body mass index (BMI) increases so does the risk for cardiovascular disease. High cholesterol, high blood pressure and blood sugar are all linked with types of cardiovascular disease, increasing the risk of heart failure, abnormal heart rhythm and heart attack.

Losing weight can significantly reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, lower blood pressure, and cholesterol and increase life expectancy [11].

Respiratory disease

Excess fat and weight can impact respiratory functioning and cause sleep apnoea and asthma.

Research shows that obesity increases the risk of developing asthma by 50% in both men and women and between 50% to 75% of people with obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA) are also obese [13][14].

Mental health problems

Obesity can also be linked with a poorer quality of life, with a range of mental health concerns including depression, and anxiety and causes self-esteem issues common for those who navigate weight-related issues.

Research shows that obese people are more likely to have depression than people with a healthy weight and this was more prevalent in women than men [15].

How can obesity be treated?

Since obesity is a global public health issue, tackling obesity on a global scale is complex and tricky. At an individual level, there is a range of ways to treat obesity at all ages from eating a more nutritious diet, increasing daily exercise and seeking support from healthcare professionals.

Eating a healthy diet

One of the best things you can do to lose weight is to follow a balanced, nutritious and calorie-controlled diet that's recommended by your GP or other health professionals (like a dietitian).

Some helpful tips to follow when on a weight loss journey are:

  • Don't skip meals: Eating regularly throughout the day can help you burn more calories at a fast rate. Try to eat foods high in fibre to stay fuller for longer and reduce the chance of snacking on foods high in sugar and fat.
  • Drink plenty of water: Aside from being good for you, water can help you feel fuller for longer. Plus, water has no calories or sugars, making hydration one of the best ways to lower your calorie intake.
  • Don't ban foods: Banning foods is a recipe for disaster because it often leads to temptations like cravings. Instead, try to eat your favourite foods in moderation and avoid labelling foods as 'bad' or 'good'. This is what will help you build a sustainable diet plan.
  • Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables: Fruits and vegetables contain essential vitamins and nutrients and are full of fibre which helps you stay fuller for longer.
  • Try cooking your favourite meals at home: If you find it difficult to control your calories or energy intake, try to cook your favourite restaurant meals at home instead. This way, you know exactly what's going into each dish while still enjoying your favourite meals.

Increased physical activity

Increasing your physical activity is essential for weight loss and keeping the weight off too. Exercise helps you burn more calories and has other health benefits too like reducing the risk of heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes and improving your life expectancy by 30% [16].

This doesn't have to mean hitting the gym every day of the week. Instead, try to find a form of physical activity you enjoy doing and do it regularly.

The NHS recommends doing 150 minutes of moderately intense physical activity a week or 75 minutes of vigorous physical activity a week and you can spread this over 4-5 days a week [17].

Holistic weight loss programs

Juniper's Weight Reset Programme takes a holistic approach to weight loss using a combination of weight loss medication and behavioural strategies. The Weight Reset Programme uses the breakthrough medicatio and dietitian-led health coaching and lifestyle changes to help you lose weight and keep it off.

Through weight loss medicine, Juniper's weight loss treatment gives your body a biological reset that targets areas of the brain that regulates appetite and lowers your body's set point, which helps you achieve your weight loss goals.

Our clinical team is also involved in the weight loss journey with you, giving you all the support you need to achieve weight loss in a healthy and sustainable way.

Our health coaches guide you with helpful and actionable advice and changing your habits will help you keep the weight off in the long term. Plus, we also connect you with a supportive community of women on the weight loss journey with you.

Ultimately, obesity prevalence is a complex public health issue that disproportionately affects and puts those living in the most disadvantaged areas at greater risk of developing weight-related issues.

But, there are various ways to tackle obesity including making small and incremental lifestyle changes like following a calorie-controlled, balanced diet and improving physical activity levels.


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