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Who's at risk and why?

Background papers: Lifestyle and wider determinants :: Healthy weight [Update in progress] :: Obesity :: Who's at risk and why?

The prevalence of overweight and obesity has increased in all communities, demonstrating that the whole population is at risk. According to the latest statistics for England,[1] around 23% of adults are obese and an additional 38% overweight. Among 2 to 15 year olds, 16% are obese and 14% overweight. Projections carried out on the basis of available data and set out in the 2007 Foresight report suggested that 60% of adult men, 50% of adult women, and 25% of children will be obese by 2050, with around 35% of adults, and 30% of children overweight.[2]

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

The National Obesity Observatory has published briefing papers on obesity and health inequalities which can be accessed by following the links below.

Obesity and Ethnicity
Obesity and Life Expectancy
Adult Obesity and Socio-economic Status

The National Obesity Observatory produces a slide set of data and information on adult obesity, which can be accessed by following this link — Adult Obesity Slide Set

The Observatory has also produced a brief evidence summary on TV viewing and obesity in children and young people. It is suggested that there is a raised likelihood of children and young people being overweight with increased TV viewing time. This is thought to be caused by a mixture of unhealthy dietary habits, sedentary behaviour and exposure to advertising that arises whilst watching TV. Children and young people consume more snacks and soft drinks whilst watching TV, and studies show a lack of awareness of actual food consumption which leads to increased calorie intake. There is evidence that high levels of sedentary behaviour, which can be brought about by TV watching, are linked to obesity, regardless of having high activity levels at other times. The last factor talked about in this brief is the advertising of food which is highly processed and energy dense. Children and young people who watch a lot of TV are particularly influenced by food advertising and boys are more influenced than girls. Australia and the US have adopted guidelines that advise parents to restrict children and young people to a maximum of 2 hours TV watching a day, but no guidelines have been issued in Britain.


[1]   The NHS Information Centre for Health and Social Care. Statistics on Obesity, Physical Activity and Diet: England, 2011 2011;
[2]   McPherson K, Marsh T, Brown M. Foresight - Tackling Obesities: Future Choices - Modelling, Future Trends in Obesity & Their Impact on Health 2007; Government Office for Science. .