The Problem of Obesity in the UK: Causes and Effects

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In the last 20 years, the lifestyle that people lead throughout their daily lives pose several health risks, and therefore has resulted in a great influx of health issues. Due to shifts in nutrition as well as other contemporary factors such as poverty and chronic eating issues, along with the fast foods chains across UK. In recent years, the type food, and thus the chemicals that are contained within these certain types of food, that are consumed contribute to greater health risks to individuals.

However, a lot of diseases that presently affect people are related to bad nutrition and lifestyle. Some of these diseases are treatable whereas others are only manageable by self-controlled. The poor nutrition has led to obesity.

The (NHS Digital, 2020) stated that overweight and obesity are words that an extra of body fat and they usually relate to increased weight-for-height. The highly used method of measuring obesity is the Body Mass Index (BMI). Obesity is a risk factor for several chronic diseases, including diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and some form of cancer, not to mention arthritis. Hence, obesity is a complicated health condition.

This report will elucidate the rise in obesity in the UK in recent decades the major causes and the impacts of obesity in the UK,

The rise in obesity in the UK in recent decades

The prevalence of obesity in the UK has risen substantially. The rate of obesity has almost doubled within 20 years according to (Campbell, 2019), making 13 million or 30% of the population obese and thus, in great risk health-wise; for contrast, an analysis operated by the (Charity Diabetes UK, 2019) reports that, approximately 6.96 million people aged 16 and above in England were obese in 1997.

Additionally, the BMI of these people has increased proportionally, with the percentage of people with a BMI equal to or greater than 30 – which qualifies as obese – increasing abruptly from 18% to 29%. The graph below shows this description and hence, its increasing trend clarifies this arguably rapid rise.

Unfortunately, the incidence of obesity in the UK is anticipated to increase, with expectations of some 40% of Britons to be obese by 2025 according to Foresight’s hypothesises (2007).

The major causes

Contrary to arguably the common belief of the general UK public, obesity is not garnered solely due to poor diet or lack of physical activity. Moreover, there are a plethora of reasons, most of which are generally out of the individual’s control, such as genetic conditions like Bardet-Biedl syndrome and Prader-Willi syndrome, (NHS, Prader-Willi syndrome - Management) environment (Beeken and Wardle, 2013) and social class.

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A poor diet can contribute greatly to the chance of obesity and hence serious health risks. Such poor diets are often synonymous with an influx of calories from too much alcohol or foods filled with saturated fat and sugars such as fast or processed foods. However, one’s financial background can contribute to what they eat. Such processed foods have become cheaper in the UK, with fruits and vegetables becoming more expensive within the same timeframe; for example, ice cream became 50 percent cheaper from 1980 to 2012, while fresh vegetables became three times more expensive (Mulier et al 2006). This suggests that processed food will be consumed by lower-income households as it is more accessible.

One’s mental state can also contribute to their risk of obesity. Comfort eating due to low self-esteem or depression; or eating out often possibly due to peer pressure (Lampard, 2015) implies that the individual’s mental state can influence the way they eat, with deteriorating mental health resulting in deteriorating physical health.

The impact of obesity on the individual

As stated previously, very serious and sometimes fatal health issues can stem from obesity. These include cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and cancers (Wang et. al, 2011). A large percentage of overweight and obese people end up developing these diseases. Several people eventually succumb to their various ailments, with 2.8 million people dying each year due to weight-related issues (Gupta, H. and Garg, S, 2020)

Additionally, one’s mental health can be affected by obesity; they could even be considered interdependent as according to (Johnson, M. et al, 2018), obesity occurs more frequently in people suffering severe mental illness compared to the general population. The mental issues with obesity in the mix tend to be depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), binge eating, and night eating syndrome (Holttum,7#S., 2016). This suggests that poor mental health exists before and during the development of obesity and contributes to making it worse.

The impact of obesity on the NHS

To extrapolate, obesity does not only affect the individual, but the NHS and thus the economy. The NHS spend billions on caring for patients admitted to hospital due to their weight and subsequent problems that result from it. According to a report from the (NHS Digital, 2019), 711.000 patients were admitted to hospital for these reasons in 2017/18 – a 15 per cent increase from the previous year. This alludes to stress being put on the capacity of NHS facilities across the UK.

Furthermore, it is reported that the NHS spent £6.1 billion on overweight or obese-related health treatments from 2014 to 2015. For contrast, more money is spent on obesity and diabetes treatment than on the police, fire services and the judicial system combined, (GOV.UK, Health Matters, 2020). This shows that treating the diseases suffered by overweight and obese people put massive stress on the NHS’s funds.


Obesity is an ever-growing problem for the UK and has been for decades; the amount of people who will eventually become obese will continue to increase. The causes are not always in the control of the individual, such as poor diets only because of the vast availability of processed food or genetic conditions such as Bardet-Biedl syndrome and Prader-Willi syndrome; and as long these causes exist we can only expect for the rate of obesity to rise.

Although obesity mostly not intentionally acquired, its impacts on the individual remain similar across all obese people. Diseases gained because of obesity can be painful and even fatal, thus they need treatment. However, treatment for these people have impact on the NHS.

Capacity and funds are strained immensely due to the increasing amount of people needing treatment due to their weight, and it is apparent that this issue is not going to improve in the foreseeable future unless the government engage in a massive public education.

Reference list

  1. Beeken, R. J. and Wardle, J. (2013) “Public beliefs about the causes of obesity and attitudes towards policy initiatives in Great Britain,” Public health nutrition, 16(12), pp. 2132–2137.
  2. Campbell, D. (2019) “Obesity almost doubles in 20 years to affect 13 million people,” The guardian, 14 November. [Online] Available at: (Accessed: 31 October 2020).
  3. Foresight (2007) tackling obesities future choices, [online] [Accessed 31 October 2020
  4. GOV.UK. 2020. Health Matters: Obesity And The Food Environment. [Online] Available at: [Accessed 1 November 2020].
  5. Gupta, H. and Garg, S. (2020) “Obesity and overweight—their impact on individual and corporate health,” Zeitschrift für Gesundheitswissenschaften [Journal of public health], 28(2), pp. 211–218.
  6. Holttum, S. (2016) “How included are mental health service users in decisions about their medication?,” Mental health and social inclusion, 20(3), pp. 141–148.
  7. Johnson, M. et al. (2018) “Tackling obesity in mental health secure units: A mixed method synthesis of available evidence,” BJPsych Open, 4(4), pp. 294–301.
  8. Lampard A.M. (2017) Obesity. In: Wade T. (eds) Encyclopaedia of Feeding and Eating Disorders. Springer, Singapore.
  9. Mulier, H.E., Seaman, H.E., Raleigh, V.S., Soedamah‐Muthu, S.S., Colhoun, H.M. and Lawrenson, R.A., 2006. Mortality in people with type 2 diabetes in the UK. Diabetic Medicine, 23(5), pp.516-521.
  10. NHS Digital (2019) 711,000 hospital admissions where obesity was a factor in 2017/18 - NHS Digital, [Online] Available at: <> (Accessed: 1 November 2020).
  11. Number of people with obesity almost doubles in 20 years (2019) [Online] Available at: (Accessed: 31 October 2020).
  12. Prader-Willi syndrome - Management (n. d) [Online] Available at: (Accessed: 31 October 2020).
  13. Wang Y., C., McPherson K., Marsh T., Gortmaker S., L., Brown M., Health and economic burden of the projected obesity trends in the USA and the UK. Lancet. 2011 Aug 27;378(9793):815-25. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(11)60814-3. Erratum in: Lancet. 2011 Nov 19;378(9805):1778. PMID: 21872750.
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