UK has the HIGHEST obesity rate in Western Europe

Britain has the worst obesity problem in Western Europe, a major report reveals today. Obesity rates in the UK have nearly doubled since the early 1990s, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

One of the report authors last night warned the Britain is following the lead of the US – the second most obese country in the world – and obesity has now become ‘normalised’ here because we watch so much American TV.

Some 27 per cent of the British population is now obese – putting the UK sixth highest in a league table of the 34 OECD nations.

Only Mexico, the US, New Zealand, Hungary and Australia have worse problems.

The OECD report predicts 40% of people in Britain will be obese by 2030 (stock photo)

The OECD report predicts 40% of people in Britain will be obese by 2030 (stock photo)

The last OECD health report, published two years ago, put the UK at 10th.

The report said: ‘Prevalence of obesity in the UK is 27 per cent, the sixth highest in OECD countries and the highest in Western Europe.’

The problem will get worse

The authors predict 40 per cent of people in Britain will be obese by 2030.

In Italy only 10 per cent are obese, France and Spain only 17 per cent and Germany 24 per cent.

The authors said the problem in Britain had undergone ‘a great increase since the 1990s’ — with obesity rates up 92 per cent. Even the US has only gone up 65 per cent in the same period.

Mark Pearson, deputy director of employment, labour and social affairs at the OECD, said: ‘In the UK we follow the lead from across the Atlantic. We are more influenced by the US than people living in Italy or other parts of Europe.

‘But the other part of the problem is we didn’t take it seriously for many years. We let it get established.’

Mr Pearson, who is British and worked for the Institute for Fiscal Studies in London before moving to the France-based OECD, added: ‘It is normal now for people in Britain to be enormously overweight.

‘They look around and they see this is normal, in a way that you don’t see in other European countries.

‘And now it is the new normal we have this dilemma – on the one hand you don’t want to go around fat shaming people, but you don’t want to just allow it be perceived as OK and normal.’

The influence of US TV 

Mr Pearson said US TV is partly to blame.

‘You don’t need to be an expert to know that in Britain we watch a lot more American TV and movies than in France or Italy.

‘It is about role models but it is also about our idea about what is normal changing over time – that is clearly what has happened in the UK and that genie is out of the bottle.’

The 215-page report also confirmed that despite improvements, cancer survival rates in the UK are still lagging behind those of other wealthy countries.

The report said: ‘Overall cancer mortality rates remain relatively high – 222 deaths per 100,000 people, compared with an OECD average of 204.

‘Further gains could be made by modifying or avoiding key risk factors, including tobacco use, unhealthy diet and physical activity.’

Not enough being done

Tam Fry, of the National Obesity Forum, said last night: ‘One could weep over the figures, the result of successive governments who have, for the last 30 years, done next to nothing to tackle obesity.

‘Ten years ago a government department report stated that the nation was sleepwalking into obesity — but no minister, either then or since, has woken up to the fact.’


Junk food adverts shown during family television shows like the X Factor could be tempting children to eat extra calories.

Research suggests teenagers consume an additional 270 calories a week for every advert for unhealthy food or drink they remembered seeing on television, above a weekly average of six junk food adverts.

The additional calories are the equivalent to eating an extra two packets of crisps or a McDonald’s hamburger each week. Over a year this adds up to 14,000 additional calories – or 84 Mars bars.

Junk food adverts have been banned from children’s programmes in a bid to stop rising child obesity rates.

However, they are still shown during family-friendly shows like soaps, reality TV and sports coverage.

This year’s X Factor is sponsored by fast food app Just Eat, while Cadbury’s is the official snack of the Premier League.

Campaigners have called for a ban on adverts promoting fast food and sugary drinks before the 9pm watershed.

Researchers from Cancer Research UK and Stirling University questioned 3,348 British youngsters aged 11 to 19 about their television viewing and what they had eaten over the past month.

Caroline Cerny, of the Obesity Health Alliance, added: ‘It is both shocking and sobering that there are 92 per cent more obese adults in the UK now than in the 1990s – and that the UK has the sixth highest obesity rate amongst OECD countries and the highest in Western Europe.

‘The answer lies in tackling the problem early — as overweight children are much more likely to become overweight adults.

‘Around one in three children in the UK are overweight or obese when they leave primary school.

‘This report recognises the steps taken by the UK Government to attempt to tackle the causes of the obesity but is right to say much more needs to be done.

‘We have to stop children growing up in an environment that promotes unhealthy food and drink and encourages sedentary lifestyles – and that includes protecting them from the harmful effects of junk food advertising.’

But Dr Alison Tedstone, chief nutritionist at Public Health England, said: ‘Most countries are facing rising levels of obesity, putting pressure on health and social care systems. While England has the worst rates of adult obesity in western Europe, our plans to tackle this are amongst the most ambitious.

‘We’re working with industry to make food healthier, we’ve produced guidance for councils on planning healthier towns and we’re delivering campaigns encouraging people to choose healthier food and lead healthier lives. It’s taken many years for us to reach this point and change will not happen overnight.’

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