Table of contents

Who's at risk and why?

Background papers: Lifestyle and wider determinants :: Healthy weight :: Obesity :: Who's at risk and why?

Adult prevalence

According to data from the 2016 Health Survey for England, 26.2% of adults in England are obese and a further 35.2% are overweight, making a total of 61.4% who are either overweight or obese.[1] Of obese adults, just over a tenth are morbidly obese (2.9% of all adults).

Some groups of the population are more at risk of developing obesity or its complications, and this contributes to inequalities in health. Obesity prevalence is influenced by factors such as age, gender and ethnicity.

The age group most likely to be overweight or obese is age 55-64, but only by a small margin. Prevalence of overweight and obesity is above 70% among all age groups from 45 upwards. The adult age group least likely to be obese is 16-24 year olds, with 59% at normal weight and only 34% overweight or obese.[2]

Ethnic differences also exist in the prevalence of obesity and the related risk of ill health. Compared with the general population, the prevalence of obesity is lower in men of Bangladeshi and Chinese family origin, whereas it is higher for women of African, Caribbean and Pakistani family origin.[3]

People living with learning disabilities, mental health problems, or a physical disability that limits mobility have been found to experience higher rates of obesity compared with people who do not have these conditions.[3]

During pregnancy and childbirth, obesity presents a series of health risks to the foetus, the infant and the mother. Obesity in pregnancy is associated with an increased risk of serious adverse outcomes including miscarriage, foetal congenital anomaly, thromboembolism, gestational diabetes, pre-eclampsia, dysfunctional labour, postpartum haemorrhage, wound infections, stillbirth and neonatal death. There is also a higher caesarean section rate and lower breastfeeding rate in this group of women compared with women with a healthy BMI.[4] Obesity in pregnancy also increases the risk of the child becoming overweight and of developing type 2 diabetes.

The National Obesity Observatory has published several briefing papers on obesity and health inequalities. They cover a range of topics including:

• Adult obesity and type 2 diabetes
• Obesity and the environment
• Social and economic inequalities in diet and physical activity
• Obesity and disability
• Knowledge and attitudes towards healthy eating and physical activity
• Obesity and mental health
• Obesity and ethnicity

The National Obesity Observatory has also produced Obesity slide sets presenting key data and information on adult and childhood obesity.

Childhood prevalence

According to data from the 2016-17 National Child Measurement Programme (NCMP), in England, 9.6% of reception age children (age 4-5) are obese, with a further 13.0% overweight. These proportions are higher among year 6 children (age 10-11), with 20.0% being obese and 14.3% overweight.[5]

The most recent publication, Childhood Obesity: A Plan for Action (2016)[6] sets out the government's plan to reduce England's rate of childhood obesity within the next 10 years. This document acknowledges that the burden of childhood obesity is falling hardest on those children from low-income backgrounds. Obesity rates are highest for children from the most deprived areas and this is getting worse. Children aged 5 and from the poorest income groups are twice as likely to be obese compared to their most well off counterparts and by age 11 they are three times as likely.[6]


[1]   NHS Digital. Health Survey for England, 2016
[2]   House of Commons Library. Breifing Paper: Obesity Statistics 2018;
[3]   The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence. Clinical guideline [CG189]. Obesity: identification, assessment and management. 2014;
[4]   Department of Health. Healthy lives, healthy people: a call to action on obesity in England 2011; Department of Health. .
[5]   NHS Digital. National Child Measurement Programme - England, 2016-17
[6]   HM Government. Child Obesity: A Plan for Action 2016;