Obesity

Policy Position

Food and drink manufacturers take their responsibility to help consumers make informed diet choices and achieve healthier lifestyles very seriously. We agree with leading experts that there is no silver bullet to tackle the complex issue of obesity. Success is dependent on many co-ordinated interventions across the entire food chain and in homes, communities and workplaces. We must look for a ‘whole diet and lifestyle’ solution with the emphasis on calories, as undue focus on any one nutrient risks misleading the consumer.

We believe strong progress on diet and health is possible through close partnership with Government. Long-term, voluntary programmes of work have been proven to be successful: from virtual elimination of artificial trans fats, reduction of portion sizes to reduce calories, and now a world-leading sugars reduction programme. A report by the McKinsey Global Institute found portion control and reformulation had the largest impact on population obesity, and were two of the most cost-effective strategies.

Food and drink manufacturers have also undertaken work beyond reformulation, providing a wide range of healthier options for consumers, including:

  • Developing ‘low-in’ products as part of our ranges.
  • Developing new packaging, such as re-sealable packs, to minimise waste and moderate consumption.
  • Providing clear, consistent nutrition information on food labels.

To see case studies of these achievements in action, view our Health and Wellbeing report.

Over the past year we have been working closely with PHE to support the development of the sugars reduction programme which aims to reduce sugars in the food supply by 20% by 2020. We look forward to working with PHE next year to build on this work and create a holistic reformulation programme with calorie reduction at its heart. See our sugars policy for more information.

Background

Childhood obesity

In August 2016 the government published their childhood obesity plan which aims to significantly reduce obesity within the next ten years. The plan includes:

  • the soft drinks industry levy
  • sugars reformulation programme
  • revision of the Ofcom nutrient profiling nutrient model
  • a focus on primary school sport and school foods
  • an acknowledgement that leaving the EU provides greater flexibility for the UK to determine how it labels food.

View the Childhood Obesity Plan here, or a summary here.

Science of obesity

Obesity refers to an excess of body fat, and in adults is measured by the body mass index (BMI), defined as a person's weight (in kilograms) divided by their height (in metres) squared. Obesity in adults is defined as a BMI of 30kg/m2 or over. In children, obesity is defined as a BMI at or above the 95th percentile based on age and sex specific charts.

Rising levels of obesity are a public health concern due to the association between obesity and morbidity and mortality. Obesity increases the risk of developing chronic diseases including type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, high blood pressure (which is linked to an increased risk of stroke) and some cancers.

Weight gain occurs when overall energy intakes consistently exceed energy requirements. Diet and physical activity both have a role to play in maintaining energy balance. Put simply, the number of calories we eat needs to match the amount of physical activity we do to keep our weight constant.

Prevalence

The most recent health survey published in England found 27% of men and women were obese, with an additional 41% of men and 31% of women overweight. These numbers have remained relatively stable since 2010, after marked increases since the mid-nineties. Obesity in Northern Ireland (26%), Scotland (28%), and Wales (24%) was similar.

Overweight and obesity in reception aged children (4-5 years old), in England, has remained relatively stable, between 22% and 23%, since 2006/07 when the National Child Measurement programme began. Children measured at year 6 (aged 10-11 years) have higher rates, with a slight increase across the time period of the programme: 31.6% to 34.2%. Although, this difference may be reduced due to measurement error in the earlier years of the programme.


Last reviewed: 25 Jul 2017