Health policies and data

Obesity and the Economics of Prevention: Fit not Fat - United Kingdom (England) Key Facts


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1. Obesity rates in the United Kingdom are the highest in Europe. In England, rates have increased faster than in most OECD countries. Two out of 3 men are overweight and 1 in 4 people are obese in the United Kingdom. The proportion of people overweight in England is projected by the OECD to rise a further 10% during the next 10 years.

Past and projected overweight rates

Underlying data and charts for all the graphics below are also available in Excel

2. More men than women are overweight, but large social disparities exist in women. Women with poor education are 1.4 times as likely as more educated women to be overweight, but this gap is not present in men.

  Relative Index of Inequality in Overweight by Education level

3. Black women have the highest obesity rates. Obesity rates are 13% higher in Black women relative to white women. Asian men and women, as well as black men, are less likely to be obese than their white counterparts.


Obesity by ethnic group in England (adults)


4. Individual prevention programmes could avoid up to 40 000 deaths from chronic diseases every year in England. Deaths avoided could increase to 70 000 if different interventions were combined in a comprehensive prevention strategy. An organised programme of counselling of obese people by their family doctors would also lead to an annual gain of over 100 000 years of life in good health.


Health Outcomes at the Population Level (Average Effect per Year)

5. How much does prevention cost? How much does it save? Most prevention programmes would cost up to GBP 100 m every year, with individual counselling by family doctors costing up to GBP 465 m. Most prevention programmes will cut health expenditures for chronic diseases, but only by a relatively small margin (up to GBP 90 m per year).


Economic Assessment of the Interventions at the Population Level (Average Effect per Year)


6. Is prevention cost-effective? Prevention can improve health at a lower cost than many treatments offered today by OECD health systems. In England, all of the prevention programmes examined will be cost-effective in the long run – relative to the commonly used standard of GBP 30 000 per year of life gained in good health. However, some programmes will take a longer time to produce their health effects and therefore will be less cost-effective in the short run.


Cost per life year gained in good health of interventions to tackle obesity




7. Almost 1 in 3 children is overweight in England and more than 1 in 3 in Scotland. Child overweight and obesity increased substantially in England between 1990 and the early 2000s, with overweight rates reaching peaks of nearly 40% around 2005. More recently, there have been signs of a stabilisation or even a possible slight retrenchment. OECD projections suggest that rates may go further up or down by up to 7%-8% in the next 10 years.


Past and projected rates of child obesity and overweight, age 3-17, in England


8. Children with obese parents are far more likely to be obese themselves. Children are about 3 times more likely to be obese if they have at least one obese parent.


Odds ratios of child obesity by parents' obesity status in England


9. Black and minority ethnic children have higher obesity rates than white children. Black children, in particular, have almost 50% higher rates than white children.


Obesity by ethnic group in England (children 3-17)


10. Socio-economic disparities are larger in children than adults. Less well off children are up to 1.7 times more likely to be obese than children from higher income groups. Disparities are present in boys as well as girls.


Social disparities in child obesity in England

 Note:  SES: Socio-economic status


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Further Reading


The Economics of Prevention


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