Fat chance? Exploring the evidence on who becomes obese

Document type
Parkhurst, Aaron
Date of publication
1 November 2015
Health Services
Social welfare
Material type

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Current political, economic and social discourse on obesity in the UK illuminates the great complexities and myriad socio-economic considerations that inform people’s health, diets, and health seeking behaviour. Recent data published in annual Health Survey for England reports suggest that at least a quarter of the adult population is obese, while two-thirds are overweight, and these rates are rising. 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.

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