Obesity in England: why is it increasing?

The number of clinically obese people in England is following a worrying trend the NHS report today. We check the latest statstics to see what this means

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Lisa Evans
guardian.co.uk, Thursday 23 February 2012 16.24 GMT
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Person weighing themselves on scales
26.1% of the population in England was classed as clinically obese in 2010. Photograph: Julia Davila-Lampe/Getty Images

26.2% of the male population in England to said to be clinically obese according to the lastest Obesity, Physical Activity and Diet report published today by the National Health Service (NHS).

That's over 26% of men in England whose body mass index is greater than 30 kg/m2, and an increase of 13 percentage points in 17 years.

Obesity has been increasing, not only for men, but for women too. Here's the data for the whole adult population of England:
To view the full image click here. The source of the data is the ONS. Estimates for adults aged 16 and over based on a representative population sample of 15,000-16,000 adults

We can see an 11.2 percentage point increase from 1993 to 2010.

The effects of this change are many and varied. Today the Press Association reported that weight loss operations have risen:

In 2010/11, there were 8,087 weight-loss stomach operations in England's hospitals, up from 7,214 in 2009/10, according to data from the NHS Information Centre.

The report highlights around a 30-fold increase in the number of people going under the knife in the last decade, from just 261 weight loss operations in 2000/01.

Recent figures include operations to adjust an existing gastric band rather than fit a new one. Of the 8,087 procedures in 2010/11, 1,444 were for maintenance of an existing band.

The report shows the number of hospital admissions with primary diagnosis of obesity has also risen really quite dramatically too. Here's the data:
To view the full image click here. The source of the data is the ONS.

But perhaps the most concerning part of the report is the data on children. The chart shows the percentage of children (aged between 2 and 15) who are overweight and obese:
To view the full image click here. The source of the data is the ONS.

Although there has been a decrease in overweight and obese children from 2004 levels, we can still see that the percentages are higher than in 1995. Here are some more detailed facts about boys and girls in 2010 compared to 1995:

• In 2010, 17% of boys and 15% of girls (aged 2 to 15) were classed as obese, an increase from 11% and 12% respectively since 1995.

• In 2010, around three in ten boys and girls (aged 2 to 15) were classed as either overweight or obese (31% and 29% respectively).

• In 2010/11, the around one in ten pupils in Reception class (aged 4-5 years) were classified as obese (9.4%) which compares to around a fifth of pupils in Year 6 (aged 10-11 years) (19.0%).

Are we doing enough to provide young people with good food and an active lifestyle? This data suggests the answer is no when compared to 17 years ago.

We've included in the spreadsheet of the key data sets from the Obesity, Physical Activity and Diet report. What can you do with them?
Data summary
Different body types in England by Body Mass Index (BMI)

Click heading to sort





Morbidly obese

Source: NHS

It shows estimates for adults aged 16 and over based on a represenative sample of 15,000-16,000 adults
1993 1.6 45.5 38 14.9 0.8
1994 1.7 45.2 37.4 15.7 1
1995 1.8 43.7 38.1 16.4 0.9
1996 1.7 42.2 38.7 17.5 0.9
1997 1.5 41.6 38.5 18.4 1.6
1998 1.7 40.6 38.3 19.4 1.3
1999 1.7 40.4 38 20 1.4
2000 1.5 38.6 38.8 21.2 1.5
2001 1.4 37 39.2 22.4 1.7
2002 1.7 37.7 38.1 22.5 1.8
2003 1.8 37.8 37.9 22.6 1.9
2004 1.6 36.7 38.8 22.9 1.7
2005 1.6 37.9 37.3 23.2 1.8
2006 1.6 36.8 37.6 23.9 2.1
2007 1.6 37.7 36.7 24 1.8
2008 1.8 36.8 36.9 24.5 2
2009 2.3 36.4 38.3 23 2.4
2010 1.6 35.6 36.7 26.1 2.7

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12 comments, displaying

This symbol indicates that that person is The Guardian's staffStaff
This symbol indicates that that person is a contributorContributor


23 February 2012 4:56PM

As I understand it these are the definitions missing from this article:

BMI is defined as weight in kilograms divided by height in metres squared.

Underweight BMI less than 18.5
Normal weight BMI between 18.5 and 24.9
Overweight BMI between 25 and 29.9
Obese BMI between 30 and 39.9.
Morbidly Obese BMI is over 40
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23 February 2012 5:23PM

There is no mystery: its all down to carbohydrates, only produced in significant quantities by the agrarian revolution 10,000 years ago; so we aren't design to cope with the amount of them we eat now. Stop eating all cereal produced foods.
Stick to the Banting/ Atkins/ Dukan very low carbohydrate diets and watch the weight drop away. No hunger, better tasting food, less farting, less acid reflux.
Don't let the dieticians fool you: no pasta either!
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23 February 2012 6:00PM

Thank's to @GerryP for the definitions. You are quite right, I should include them.
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23 February 2012 6:03PM

Bloody hell victoria, there are a lot of advocates of low carb diets, but the fact is that it's actual calories that are the problem - it's merely that carbohydrates are high calories per unit cost. What's more, the human race needs cereals to produce enough food to feed the number of people on the planet, so it's a bizarre suggestion to actually stop growing.

Whilst I would agree that eating large amounts of carbohydrates before sleep - late night pasta/rice/bread for example - is a bad idea, it would be a pretty depressing diet with none of them ever. I'd also encourage eating more brown rice and wholemeal products rather than white rice/bread etc, but completely cutting out carbs isn't the solution either.
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23 February 2012 9:19PM

What really interests me about this article is the almost total lack of comments. If it was an article about some pop-singer who stuck their finger up on TV then hundreds of people stick their oar in. But there are just three of us commenting upon the most significant news story of the day.

Basically this piece is saying forget Lansley and his reforms - the NHS as we know it is dead. A combination of poor education (and the resultant ignorant population), lifestyle and food manufacturers; aided and abetted by successive incompetent governments, mean it will no longer be possible to provide free quality health care.

Within ten years the UK NHS service will be confined to acute health cover with minimal free chronic treatment. Disease arising from this obesity epidemic will bankrupt health provision.

And what will DC do about it? Well by then he will have an NHS structure that can be easily privatised and the Bullingdon Club will no doubt make some rich pickings.
Recommend? (3)
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23 February 2012 10:06PM

The FDA has been scamming the people with deadly weight loss drugs for over 30 years. This is all about billions of dollars.

The FDA scam is simple

1. They approve the diet pill and it profits about 5 billion a year.

2. 5 years After the heart attacks and loss of life from the pills the FDA says it will decide to pull the drug off the market.

3. The drug makers are happy and have made about $30 billion over 5 years

4. The drug-makers agree to pay back 4 billion in damages to the people..They still pocket 26 billion. We are taking BILLIONS not Millions.

No one needs a drug for obesity. researchers in Denmark showed a specialized diabetes diet caused more weight loss in those with or without diabetes than the top selling weight loss drugs.

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24 February 2012 10:51AM

Bloody Hell Gumbo.....

whilst, in theory, eating too many calories will lead to weight gain, and eating too few to weight loss, it's far from that simple. Eating carbohydrates can lead to a surge in insulin, which in turn encourages our bodies to gain fat. And that's without starting on the other problems associated with eating grains.....

You make a fair point about producing enough food for the world to eat. I don't know enough about this to provide a counter argument, but I'll be steering clear of grains thanks.

Depressing diet? Sure bread, pasta and cakes are nice (and I do eat them occasionally) but pork chop with broccoli smothered in butter..... yes please. So, make minor sacrifices? Yep. Depressing diet? I don't think so.
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24 February 2012 10:51PM
Response to stockholm07, 24 February 2012 10:51AM

Have you ever read Gary Taubes? He argues that obesity is not caused by thermodynamics ie calories in vs calories out but by the toxic effect sugars have on human endocrinology systems. Essentially obesity is the result of a hormone imbalance caused by sugar and the effects of insulin.

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25 February 2012 7:42AM
Response to turtlelina, 24 February 2012 10:51PM

no I haven't read Gary Taubes but have read Robb Wolf, Mark Sisson, art de vany, et al including our own Dr John briffa. They've changed the way my family and I live our lives and provided great benefit - not only our weight but other health benefits such as dramatically improving my mother's arthritis. I have just bought Matt Lalonde's new book but will check out Gary Taubes next, thanks.

I don't think we can completely rule out the calories angle though: if you eat nothing you will lose weight; if you eat enough for 10 you will put on weight surely, regardless of what you eat. Where is the line? But I would agree that calories is not as important as most people think and that we're led to believe by the authorities and the media.
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25 February 2012 2:36PM

Not that anyone cares, but I meant Loren cordain's new book, not Matt Lalonde's.
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25 February 2012 6:32PM
Response to stockholm07, 25 February 2012 7:42AM

I shall give them a read! It's quite frustrating when people troll these sorts of articles when quite frankly we don't know everything about nutrition and how the human body process what we eat. You should also give 'The End of Overeating' by David Kessler. He takes issue with the food industry.
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26 February 2012 8:35AM

Thanks I'll check that out.
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