The UK is most obese country in western Europe, OECD finds

Rapid increase in obesity has sparked fears the problem could bankrupt the NHS

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 11 November, 2017, 1:26pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 11 November, 2017, 8:57pm

Britain is the most obese country in western Europe, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

Its annual Health at a Glance report, published on Friday, shows that 26.9 per cent of British population had a body mass index of 30 and above, the official definition of obesity, in 2015. Only five of the OECD’s 35 member states had higher levels of obesity, with four outside Europe and one in eastern Europe.

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The OECD’s report, which says obesity in Britain has increased by 92 per cent since the 1990s, illustrates the scale of the public health challenge, with fears it could bankrupt the NHS.

“One could weep over the figures, the result of successive governments who have, for the last 30 years, done next to nothing to tackle obesity,” said Tam Fry, chair of the National Obesity Forum. “Even today, we have only a pathetic attempt by Theresa May’s administration to get serious about reducing the numbers and avoiding an official estimate that more than 50 per cent of the UK will be obese by 2050. Ten years ago, a government department report stated that the nation was sleepwalking into obesity – but no minister, either then or since, has woken up to the fact.”

The government was heavily criticised when it launched its childhood obesity strategy last year for its reliance on voluntary action by the food and drink industry and lack of restrictions on junk food marketing and advertising.

Along with smoking, obesity is one of the two main drivers behind the biggest killers of the modern world: cancers, heart attacks, strokes and diabetes.

Britain has the 11th highest cancer mortality rate – about 222 deaths per 100,000 people – according to the OECD. But the proportion of adults with diabetes in the UK – 4.7 per cent – was one of the lowest.

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The report came the day after official figures were published showing a record number of Caesareans – 28 per cent of all births – in English hospitals in 2016-17, up 11 per cent in five years. The increase was partly attributed to rising obesity levels, accompanied as it was by statistics showing one in five pregnant women have a BMI greater than 30.

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Last month, the World Obesity Forum predicted that unless effective action is taken, the cost of treating ill health caused by obesity in Britain will rise from US$19 billion to US$31 billion per year in 2025.

At 38 per cent, the US has the highest level of obesity, according to the OECD, followed by Mexico, New Zealand, Hungary and Australia.

“Most countries are facing rising levels of obesity, putting pressure on health and social care systems,” said Dr Alison Tedstone, chief nutritionist at Public Health England. “While England has the worst rates of adult obesity in western Europe, our plans to tackle this are among the most ambitious. We’re working with industry to make food healthier, we’ve produced guidance for councils on planning healthier towns and we’re delivering campaigns encouraging people to choose healthier food and lead healthier lives. It’s taken many years for us to reach this point and change will not happen overnight.”