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The Rise of Obesity in The UK: A Costly Concern for the NHS

Updated on December 23, 2019
Gabriel Wilson profile image

Gabriel lives with her family on the Island of Madeira, where a warm climate provides the perfect environment to enjoy the outdoor life.

Choose Your Breakfast!

A Fried Breakfast
A Fried Breakfast | Source
A Fried Breakfast
A Fried Breakfast | Source

The Growing Cost of Obesity

I have spent some time researching obesity statistics and studies and I am appalled at the results. In fact the shocking results make it difficult to summarise into easy reading. The fact that heart disease is one of the biggest killers in the UK and is directly related to obesity, type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure all related to being grossly overweight is off the scale when you are talking about a rich first world country. What the hell is going on?

According to a report published by the Commons Health Select Committee in November 2015, treating obesity related medical conditions costs the National Health Service (NHS) in the UK a whopping 5 billion pounds a year. Astonishingly that figure booms to 27 billion as a wider cost to the economy.

A study published by two Mckinsey researchers in the same year estimated costs to the UK economy of 6 billion pounds annually in direct medical costs of obesity and overweight conditions and a further 10 million pounds in relation to diabetes treatments.

The cost of obesity and diabetes treatments in the NHS is unbelievably equivalent to the UK's combined budget for the police and fire services, law courts and prisons, 40% of total spending on education and 35% of the country's defence budget.

In plain simple words the incredible and indigestible truth: obesity is costing the UK a fortune. In a country were some children go to school without breakfast, people can't afford to heat their homes and cancer treatments are too expensive you have seriously over weight people eating into the NHS budget and devouring it completely.

In a recent study, overall 67% of men and 62% of woman were classed as overweight or obese

The Rise of Obesity:

Rising levels of obesity are a major challenge to public health. There are expected to be 11 million more obese adults in the UK by 2030, accruing up to 668,000 additional cases of diabetes mellitus and up to 461,000 cases of heart disease and stroke. Adult obesity rates have almost quadrupled in the last 25 years.

At an individual level a combination of excessive food energy intake and a lack of physical activity is thought to explain most cases of obesity for a medical point of view. Reduced level of physical activity is due to increased use of public cars, desk bound employment, a decline in home cooking skills and readily available processed foods high in sugar, salt and saturated fat are variously cited as contributing factors.

A 2015 study (University of Cambridge study) reported that the total number of takeaway restaurants including fried chicken, fish and chips, pizza, kebab, Indian and Chinese take away shops has risen by 45% over the preceding 18 years. Government data reports that the expenditure on takeaway food in the UK rose by 7% between 2011 - 2014. The growth of the fast food industry and high street bakeries and coffee chains continue to grow.

The UK had the 5th highest obesity rate in Europe in 2015. In 2016 according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development nearly 27% of adults in the UK were obese, the highest proportion in Western Europe and a 92% increase since 1996. The proportion of adults who were overweight or obese increased with age.

Recommendations by Medical Professionals

In 2013, 220,000 doctors in the UK united to form what they call a 'prescription' for the UK's obesity epidemic.


  • Food-based standards to be mandatary in all UK hospitals.
  • A ban on new fast food outlets being located close to schools and colleges.
  • A duty on all sugary soft drinks, increasing the price by at least 20% to be piloted.
  • Traffic light food labelling to include calorie information for children and adolescents with visible calorie indicators for restaurants especially fast food outlets.
  • 100 million pounds in each of the next 3 years to be spent on increasing provisions of weight measurement services across the country.
  • A ban on advertising foods high in saturated fats, sugar and salt before 9pm.
  • Existing mandatory food and nutrient based standards in England to be statutory in free schools and academies.

Are there too Many Fast Food Outlets?

Pizza Slice
Pizza Slice | Source

Related Statistics:

In the 2016 UK budget the British Government announced the introduction of a sugar tax on the soft drinks industry which came into effect in April 2018. The measure will generate an estimated 520 million a year in additional tax to be spent on doubling existing funding for sport in UK primary schools.

Statistics highlight that lower income areas of London exhibit higher rates of childhood obesity compared with other parts of the UK. According to research data from the Health Survey for England, the proportion of children classified as overweight and obese was inversely related to household income.

For England alone, Public Health England published data in May 2017 indicating that 63.8% of adults in England have a body mass (BMI) of 25 or over with the most overweight region being the Northeast where 68% of people are overweight, followed by the West Midlands at 65.7%.

According to the Global Burden of Disease Study published in 2013 the United Kingdom had proportionately more obese and overweight adults than anywhere in western Europe, with the exception of Iceland and Malta.


I am sure all those states and studies related to obesity and being overweight have been hard to digest and while these facts are very interesting there is no real fundamental answer to why obesity is on the rise. I for one don't believe fast food and takeaways are the reason.

Fast food has grown for sure but so has the population and not just individual expanding bodies but bodies by number. The UK population is expected to grow to 73 million by 2041 compared with todays population of 67 million. Fast food restaurants and takeaways offer a wider variety of healthier options more than ever including fish and vegetarian options, salads, soups and dips. The older adults are the fattest so for me that also rules out fast foods as the top reason for a fatter UK.

Statistics tell us that obesity is highest among men aged 45-74 (78%) and women aged between 65-74 (73%). I would conclude that owning a private car, desk bound employment and a lack of cooking skills would least affect this age group as opposed to younger generations.

It seems to me that no matter what statistics, studies and investigations are carried out the answer will not be conclusive but rather a random selection of what are rather obvious contributors but possibly not the correct answers at all.

I do believe we are right back to square one: the mathematical equation of consumption of energy ie food and the usage of that energy. As long as you consume more calories than you burn you will get fatter.

Here's the big question: why do some people eat far more than they should while other people are happy to eat a normal varied diet and only to satisfy their hunger? This is surely a big part of why people are obese.

I have friends (a family) that are very overweight and when I go to their home for a meal I must admit I am badgered to eat and eat, these are good friends that I know a long time so I am always happy to repeat that I have had enough and no I don't want a second plate or more cake. They pile the food onto my daughters plate too but of course she doesn't eat it all. She doesn't like to feel overfull. And likes to run around and play. I also find for a few days afterwards I enjoy lighter meals. My slim friends would never encourage me to keep eating and our get togethers are nearly always bbq's with salads which I love. And they would never pile my daughters plate or give her a sugary drink without asking me first, which of course at a party I will say yes.

Recently I was chatting with my overweight friend and while we were chatting she ate a ready made pot of jelly and a breakfast biscuit bar. About an hour later she wanted to get something to eat saying she hadn't ate since breakfast, I reminded her of the jelly pot and the bar and she looked blankly at me and said with earnest, ''No I didn't.'' I was going to laugh and say, "Yes you did!" but she looked completely baffled and I honestly believe she didn't remember eating it. And I would like to add that the whole family have been dieting for years.

Being obese has much more to it than just eating for the sake of eating and perhaps that is a study that should be investigated. I understand being under pressure or depressed can effect people differently. If I am a bit down I go for a long walk and cheer myself up, the last thing I would want is to eat and this makes me think that perhaps obesity and being overweight is linked to more that just the desire to eat. I would also go as far to say that I believe brain patterns and routine are major contributors to being obese or overweight: breaking that pattern and/or that frame of mind surely must be part of the equation to combat obesity. I am going out on a limb here but could it also be possible that being obese is an addiction and breaking the addiction is the crucial starting point. Is obesity the opposite of anorexia? Is obesity another form of compulsion? Can you compare obesity to alcoholism and drug addiction? What do you think?


This article is not a blame game but an informative article about stats and the cost of obesity to the NHS. I support any one that is overweight or obese in so far as it's not simply a case of diet or exercise and no one should judge without in-dept knowledge of how the brain works and patterns evolve to become addictions. It is my belief that very over weight and obese people have longterm effects from over eating and changing that is not as simple as we all think. Breaking long term patterns is ongoing and the withdrawal effects from the body are very real. I conclude that to stop the rise of obesity we must understand the effects and whether or not the foods we eat are addictive. Indeed it is obvious that no one craves fruit or vegetables so what are we eating when we eat manufactured foods? It is very likely that avoiding these foods as much as possible is the beginning towards combating the rise of obesity.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2019 Gabriel Wilson


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