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Dr Sarah Wollaston MP, Chairman, Health Select Committee


2020health Press Release Fat Chance? New report lifts the lid on who is more likely to become obese

Ignorance of who becomes obese and simplistic solutions will mean Britain’s economic prosperity remains vulnerable.


A new study published by 2020health blows apart previous simplistic approaches to obesity. The research paper, ‘Fat Chance?’ which examines the wealth of current knowledge and data on obesity, addresses one crucial question: ‘Who exactly is becoming obese?’

With the Health Select Committee considering marketing to children, food labelling and a sugar tax on soft drinks, the Government debate on obesity is currently focussed heavily on diet. However this ground-breaking review of research shows many factors, including parental weight, access to green spaces and the safety of roads have a strong influence on obesity rates in children and must be considered.

In evidence given to the Health Select Committee’s inquiry on Childhood Obesity on 7th October, leading expert Professor Graham McGregor stated that ‘poor and socially deprived people are the ones that get obese.’ However, 2020health’s study shows that whilst socio-economic factors play a key role in determining who becomes obese, there is an alarming trend towards obesity amongst men from the middle and upper financial classes, demonstrating that trends are changing and the debate urgently needs to be reframed.

The study looked at 16 data-sets to determine ‘who’ is obese in the UK, and what are the key correlates linked to rising levels of obesity. These included: age, gender, geographic location, socio-economic status, prevalence of local green space, fast food density in the area, rates of smoking and presence of mental illness.

Key findings and perspectives on the complexity of what is driving obesity UK include:

• Evidence that links lower socio-economic groups to obesity remains overwhelming, but what has emerged is that obesity rates are now rising rapidly amongst other groups who are experiencing social instability in their lives.
• Both upwardly and downwardly mobile groups are correlated with higher rates of obesity than the stable rich or poor; uncertainty seems to be a significant factor for weight gain.
• Gender is also key in understanding the trends in obesity, and so should be factored into future health policy interventions. Previously women were deemed more likely to be obese than men, but obesity rates are now increasing amongst men, especially the middle-aged.
• Analysing obesity in relation to gender and socio-economic factors alone ignores the wider impacts of people’s local environment on obesity rates.
• The prevalence of fast food outlets near working environment has a significant impact on the BMI of men, whilst the lack of green space in a local environment has an impact on obesity rates in girls in particular.
• Half of all people suffering with psychosis are obese.
• Parental obesity, especially in mothers, is a far more predictive factor than ethnicity.

Commenting on the findings, Julia Manning, Chief Executive, 2020health, said:

“These findings blow apart assumptions on ‘who’ becomes obese, confirming the incredibly complex nature of the challenge that we face to improve the health of the nation. There are numerous structural, social and behavioural factors which appear to be influencing poor dietary and lifestyle choices. Only by understanding these factors will we be able to address the rapidly rising rates of obesity.

Our meta-review of research shows that a number of factors, such as the impact of the built environment, are being overlooked in the fight against obesity and highlights the need for the debate on this issue to be reframed. Another area of concern for me is that the evidence being given to the Childhood Obesity Inquiry seems to focus heavily on the socio-economic causes, which is a view point that was recently echoed by the Mayor of London. Our research shows that whilst this is a prominent factor in determining who becomes obese, there is a growing tendency towards obesity in men from the middle and upper financial classes. Ignoring the current evidence in any strategy going forward would be both short-sighted and futile.

We all need to play our part, and we hope that this study will serve as a valuable contribution to the evidence base on obesity to inform intelligent health interventions and workable solutions. We have now reached crisis point, and we call on the Government to facilitate COBRA-style emergency meetings on obesity and nutrition. Successive politicians have not come anywhere near to a successful, holistic plan that will tackle the obesity crisis, which is weighing down the NHS, economy and welfare state.”

Building on our ‘Careless eating costs lives’ (2014) report which demonstrated the crucial case for a cross-sectoral response to obesity, we hope that we can add to the policy evidence base around what interventions should be made, and at what level, in order to effectively tackle rising levels of obesity.”

The report has been funded by an unrestricted educational grant from AB Sugar. All content, conclusions and views are those of the authors alone. All facts have been cross-checked for accuracy as far as possible.


For more information or for a copy of the report please contact: or on 07730 499 649

Notes to Editors
• 2020health is an independent, social enterprise think tank whose mission is to “Make Health Personal” - Giving people the information, understanding and confidence to take a meaningful role in their health and wellbeing, and creating the conditions for a healthy society.
• The report builds on last year’s report: ‘Careless Eating, Costs Lives’, for which AB Sugar also provided 2020Health with an unrestricted educational grant.

Interviews are available with:
• Julia Manning, Chief Executive of 2020health
• Matt James, Senior Fellow, 2020health
• Dr Aaron Parkhurst (contributor to research)