Key points

  • Between 1993 and 2009, there has been a marked increase in the proportion that was obese. This proportion increased from 13% of men in 1993 to 22% in 2009 and from 16% of women in 1993 to 24% in 2009. The rate of increase in obesity prevalence has been slower in the second half of the period than the first half, and there are indications that the trend may be flattening out, at least temporarily. However, it is too soon to tell whether there continues to be a very gradual upward trend, with obesity in women in 2008 at its highest level since 1993 (though not significantly different from 2007); followed by a slight decrease in the prevalence of obesity from 25% in 2008 to 24% in 2009 (although again not significantly different).
  • 22% of working-age people are now obese.  This is a much higher proportion than 20 years ago: in 1993 (the earliest year for which data is available), the proportion was 14%.  Most of the increase occurred in the period 1993 to 2001, with little change since then.
  • Men and women are equally likely to be obese.
  • There no obvious relationship between obesity and income.  The groups with the lowest levels of obesity are poor men and rich women.
  • There is no obvious relationship between obesity and social class.
  • In England, the proportion of working-age people who are obese is lowest in London.

Why this indicator was originally chosen

Obesity is a major risk factor for a range of lethal diseases, including heart disease, non-insulin dependent diabetes, high blood pressure and osteoarthritis 1 and, in the case of women, differs substantially by level of household income.

Definitions and data sources

The first graph shows the proportion of people aged 16 to retirement who are obese, with the data shown separately for men and women.  Obesity is defined as those with a body mass index greater than 30 kg/m2.  Only ‘valid body mass index’ values have been included (i.e. those where the interviewer was content that both the weight and height measurements were reliable).  ‘Working-age people’ is defined as everyone aged between 16 and 59/64.

The second graph show the same information but in terms of absolute numbers rather than proportions of the population.  ONS population estimates have been used to derive the numbers from the proportions.

The third graph shows how the proportions vary by household income, with the data shown separately for men and women.  The allocation of households to income quintiles uses gross ‘equivalised household income’, which means that the household incomes have been adjusted to put them on a like-for-like basis given the size and composition of the households.

The fourth graph shows how the proportions vary between social classes, again with the data shown separately for men and women.

The fifth graph shows the how the proportions vary by region, with the data shown for men and women combined.

The data source for all the graphs is the Health Survey for England (HSE) and relates to England only.  To improve its statistical reliability, the data in the third to fifth graphs has been averaged over the latest three years.  Note that the data for 2008 did not include regional figures.  Also note that the data from 2003 onwards is weighted, whereas the earlier data is unweighted.

Overall adequacy of the indicator: high.  HSE is a large survey which is designed to be representative of the population in England as a whole.

Relevant 2007 Public Service Agreements

None directly relevant.

The numbers

Graph 1 and 2

Year Percent Numbers (millions)
Men Women Men Women
199313% 15% 2.0M 2.1M
1994 13% 15% 2.0M 2.1M
1995 15% 16% 2.3M 2.2M
1996 16% 16% 2.4M 2.3M
1997 17% 18% 2.6M 2.5M
1998 17% 19% 2.6M 2.7M
1999 18% 19% 2.8M 2.7M
2000 20% 18% 3.2M 2.7M
2001 20% 22% 3.2M 3.2M
2002 22% 21% 3.5M 3.2M
2003 22% 21% 3.4M 3.1M
2004 21% 21% 3.6M 3.2M
200522% 22% 3.6M 3.4M
200623% 22% 3.8M 3.3M
200723% 22% 3.8M 3.3M
200823% 23% 3.9M 3.5M
200921% 22% 3.6M 3.4M

Graph 3

Income quintile Men Women
Poorest fifth 19% 28%
2nd 27% 27%
3rd 23% 25%
4th 22% 23%
richest fifth 23% 16%

Graph 4

Gender Social classes I-IIINM Social classes IIIM-V
Men 24% 23%
Women 22% 26%

Graphs 5

Region Total
East 22%
East Midlands 23%
London 18%
North East 27%
North West 23%
South East 21%
South West 24%
West Midlands 25%
Yorkshire and The Humber 25%

1. For example, see Obesity – a growing concern, NHS Health Development Agency, 2001, and McCormick, J., in ‘Welfare in working order‘, IPPR, 1998, page 177.