Obesity: Is the UK still the ‘fat man’ of Europe?

Obesity: Is the UK still the ‘fat man’ of Europe?

  • 29 March 2017
  • Posted in: Health & Social Care

In 2010 the UK was classed as the ‘fat man’ of Europe, topping the league table out of 20 European Union nations and having one of the world’s fastest obesity growth rates. Official figures published in October 2016 show that the UK has now moved down the league to 5th position behind Malta, Latvia, Hungary and Estonia. On the surface this looks like an improvement, however, it asks the question has the UK really improved or has it just been overtaken?

Why are people overweight?

There are many theories as to why people are overweight. The most obvious cause is overeating and physical inactivity, however, other factors, such as genetics, culture, behaviour and environment can all play a part. Socio-economic and geographical factors are also known to have a direct link to obesity levels, creating significant inequalities. For example, children from low-income families are more likely to have a predilection for being obese, as are people from Northern England.

Why are the effects of being obese?

Obesity affects health and wellbeing on a monumental scale. Being overweight increases risk significantly of developing illnesses such as diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, cancer and osteoarthritis. A decline in quality of life and mental health are also consequences of carrying excess weight. Life expectancy is reduced for people who are moderately obese by an average of three years, however, for those who are morbidly obese it is eight to ten years.

What can we do to halt obesity?

There are many initiatives across local authorities, the NHS, education and public, third sector and private partners in the battle against obesity. The Change4Life programme, NHS Health Checks, improved food and drink labelling, recommended levels of physical activity and nutritional intake plus, the Public Health Responsibility Deal and the child measurement programme, to name just a few, are pivotal in stabilising rates.

Most recently the Childhood Obesity Strategy gave emphasis to increased physical activity in schools and a voluntary scheme with manufacturers to reduce the levels of sugar in products that are popular amongst children. The aim is to reduce sugar levels by 20% in the next five years. In addition, the Government’s tax on sugary drinks will come into force by 2018 with the revenue raised going towards sport in schools. Primary schools are tasked with ensuring pupils embark on 60 minutes of exercise a day and a new voluntary “healthy schools rating scheme” will be taken into account during school inspections.

Encouraging a diet of behaviour change to choose a healthier lifestyle is key to reducing the nation’s waistlines, however, direct measures to combat obesity are also are a part of the solution, including offering drug treatments, bariatric surgery and weight loss programmes as part of the NHS budget.

Join the debate

Join us at Obesity: Tipping Back the Scales of the Nation for all the latest news, views and opinions as we look in depth at the growing issue of obesity. How can the trend towards obesity be halted and how important is it to stop the increasing acceptance that being overweight is the ‘norm’?

  • obesity
  • Childhood Obesity Strategy
  • fastest obesity growth rates