Chart of the week: Millions more people with higher health risks due to obesity

Each week we present analysis of data in chart form to illustrate some key issues and invite discussion. With studies showing the increased risk of Covid-19 for those who are obese, this week John Appleby looks at the numbers of adults in England who are at high risk of obesity-related ill health – and how those numbers have changed over the last 27 years.

Chart of the week

Published: 05/08/2020

To the long list of health problems associated with obesity – from heart disease and type 2 diabetes to osteoarthritis and kidney disease – we can add Covid-19. A number of studies of the risk factors linked to the coronavirus suggest that being overweight is associated with a significantly higher risk of death.

This connection has prompted a new obesity strategy that, among other things, promises a pre-9pm TV and online ban on adverts for high fat foods and the end of ‘buy one, get one free’ deals on food high in salt, sugar and fat. That is despite the launch of the strategy coinciding with the government encouraging people to eat out more via their well-publicised August meal voucher scheme.

GPs are also to be encouraged to prescribe cycling. But the extent of the problem should not be underestimated.

Over the last 27 years, the numbers of people in England classified at very high risk of obesity-related ill health has increased from 4.9 million to 11.2 million – a 129% increase and in 2018 equivalent to a quarter of the adult population.

And for those at any health risk, numbers have increased from 16.3 million to 25.3 million – around 56% of the population aged over 16.

While part of these increases is simply due to an increase in the population (which has grown by around 18% since 1993), most is due to the increasing prevalence of obesity.