Is obesity truly an epidemic? According to many medical experts and scientists, it is, or at least it is on the way of becoming one very soon. Not only is the prevalence of obesity much greater than it was couple of years (or decades) ago, but it shows no sign of diminishing. In fact, 21st century has been marked by pretty much constant rise in the percentage of people who are obese in the UK, EU and the USA.

This fact alone highlights another important fact – obesity is not equally prevalent globally and it most commonly affects people in the developed world. But, not even this is completely true as there are different, maybe even surprising facts that do not neatly fit into our idea of obese city dwellers. For example, obesity in Europe is more common among the rural population that among the urban one.1

What’s on this page?

As a widespread medical condition as well as lifestyle disorder that is directly tied to numerous health risks and chronic conditions (type-2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, hypertension) and as a negative factor influencing mental health and self-esteem, obesity is under scientific scrutiny for decades now. And the numbers discovered by the relevant scientists tell a story, a story that matters.

The consequences of obesity

Aside from already mentioned risks obesity poses to health and wellbeing of an individual, this condition is also putting a noticeable strain on the public health and social services. In a large part, this is due to the fact that obesity epidemic is a fairly new phenomenon so the proper responses to it are still lagging behind its drastic impact on the individual and the society.

Obesity in the UK trends and statistics

As a developed, first-world country, the UK is a typical schoolbook-case of a country that is at high risk of obesity. And those assumptions are only confirmed by the research conducted. The medical experts and statistics scientists came to an agreement that around 62% of the UK population can be classified as overweight or obese. The trend is even more worrisome when we put this into perspective – in the last 25 years, the number of obese people in the UK increased by as much as staggering 400%.

When we limit the data to obesity alone, hence, not counting overweight, but not obese people, the prevalence in the UK increased from 1%-2% in the 1960s to 25% percent in 2015!

What caused the increase in obesity prevalence?

The scientists identified several trends that seem to have contributed to the grim statistics of obesity prevalence in the UK. While the consensus on the exact impact of each and every one of those is yet to be reached, all the relevant authorities agree that the following can be viewed as contributing factors to increase in percentage of obese people in the UK:

  • Increase in usage of cars
  • Increase in number of supermarkets per square kilometre
  • Increase in the prevalence of fast food restaurants
  • Dominance of energy dense foods on the market
  • Increase in disposable income of the average UK inhabitant
  • Decrease in consumption of home-cooked meals
  • Decrease in physical activity
  • Substitution of walking by public transport

The complex interplay of these various factors contributed to the imbalance between the energy consumed and energy spent, thus causing the accumulation of the excess nutritional value in the fat storages. While neither of these could cause the obesity epidemic in itself, in tandem with the others, this is at the root of a very dangerous trend.2

Which UK regions have the highest percentage of obese population?

While obesity manifests throughout the UK, it seems that the north-eastern parts of England are the most affected, while the lowest rates of obesity have been documented in the south-western regions. There is also a correlation between socioeconomic status and the prevalence of obesity, with the condition increasing in deprived areas.

Obesity trends in European Union

While UK is undoubtedly the country with the highest obesity prevalence in Europe, the same worrying trend is noticeable throughout the member states of the European Union. Below, we will provide you with the obesity statistics by EU member states.3

Please note that the table below provides the data regarding the percentage of population that is obese (overweight people are not considered in the table).

Country % of population that is obese
Czech republic 26.8
Malta 26.6
Lithuania 25.9
Slovakia 25.7
Ireland 25.6
Poland 25.2
Slovenia 25.1
Hungary 24
France 23.9
Cyprus 23.8
Latvia 23.7
Spain 23.7
Croatia 23.3
Bulgaria 23.2
Luxembourg 23.1
Greece 22.9
Estonia 22.6
Romania 21.7
Italy 21
Finland 20.6
Sweden 20.5
Belgium 20.2
Germany 20.1
Portugal 20.1
Netherlands 19.8
Denmark 19.3
Austria 18.4

As evident from the numbers here, obesity is rather prevalent throughout the UK. And if we were to take the overweight people into account too, the numbers would be even higher. But, the most problematic thing here is that the numbers are actually steadily on the rise throughout Europe.  And while no countries have managed to reverse this trend, Finland has managed to slow it down quite significantly during the recent ages. But how exactly did that happen?

Managing obesity on a large scale: The example of Finland

As mentioned, Finland is the only EU country that has managed to slow down the rise in obesity prevalence, while at the same time decreasing the number of obesity-related deaths. Naturally, this caught some well-deserved attention in the rest of the EU and wider Europe, with numerous countries showing the interest in how this was achieved.

Of course, there is no simple and clear answer to this – Finland relied on a combination of strong and extensive government campaigns, education on the topic and regulation and cooperation with the food industry, all directed towards promoting and encouraging healthy eating habits.

However, as of the time of writing this article, other countries are yet to replicate Finland’s success in preventing obesity.

A relationship between obesity and age

In the UK, as well as in numerous other western countries, obesity trends can be easily correlated with the age structure of the population. Specifically, there seems to be an increase in obesity with the increase in age, although this trend changes among those older than 75.

When it comes to women, the age group most affected by obesity is 65-74 years old, while for men, the highest risk group is 45-64 years old.

Childhood obesity in the UK

When it comes to determining the link between age and obesity, there is yet another topic that has to be covered – the prevalence of childhood obesity. Sadly, the most recent research seems to indicate that roughly a third of all children aged 2-15 in the UK is obese. This is a specifically important issue since obese children have a very high risk of becoming obese or overweight adults. And there’s no need to mention how much of a health risk this is. Childhood obesity can cause early onset of diabetes or various cardiovascular diseases, thus significantly reducing the quality of life of an individual.

Obesity related deaths statistics

As was mentioned, obesity can cause a range of health conditions which can negatively influence the quality of life, but also reduce life expectancy for some. According to recent estimates, around 2.8 million people throughout the world die each year due to being overweight or obese. In fact, if this trend continues, obesity will surpass tobacco consumption as the biggest contributor to premature death. The scientists pretty much agree that obesity can reduce total life expectancy by roughly 9 years in mild to moderate cases and even more in severe cases of obesity.


  1. Prevalence of adult overweigh and obesity in Europe – Portugal University of Human Medicine Experts Research
  2. WHO Europe – Obesity Data and Statistics
  3. Eurostat – Overweight and Obesity BMI statistics