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Addressing the impact of obesity in the UK


Addressing the impact of obesity in the UK

How Do Viruses Make Us Sick?

The nation has seen a rise in obesity over the last 10 years,1 but what causes the condition?

Around three quarters of adults in England aged 45-74 are overweight or obese,1 yet there are still many misconceptions and stigma associated with the condition. Studies have shown that obesity is largely caused by unhealthy eating habits and insufficient exercise, but it can also be caused by certain medical conditions.2  Costing the NHS an average of £6.5 billion annually3, obesity is predicted to cost nearly £10 billion per year by 2050.4  Action is needed to address the condition more effectively across the nation.  

Understanding obesity

Obesity is defined as a complex disease and a high-risk medical condition.2 Easy access to fast food restaurants and highly processed foods in grocery stores in Western societies, makes it even harder for governments to counter rising obesity rates. Common causes for obesity include an increase in calorie intake and lack of exercise, while other factors could also be influencing obesity including genetics, hormonal and metabolic imbalances, lack of sleep, stress, other psychological issues, and underlying health conditions or medications.2 

The UK has the third highest level of obesity in Europe and the third highest in the G7 countries, following Canada and the US. According to the Obesity Empowerment Network, those with obesity are at higher risk of being diagnosed with other health conditions including:6

  • High blood pressure: the risk of developing high blood pressure increases about three-fold, for a woman with obesity, and four-fold for a man with obesity6

  • Arthritis and joint problems: extra strain on the musculoskeletal system can cause deterioration of cartilage and underlying bones6

  • Type 2 diabetes: nearly half of those diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes are overweight or obese6

  • Sleep difficulty: obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA) due to reduced lung capacity in those who are obese6 

  • Women's reproductive health: greater risk of infertility, polycystic ovarian syndrome, and menstrual abnormalities6

  • Cancer: recent studies suggest that death rates from cancer increases in severely obese individuals6


UK government plan of action

Since 1992, successive UK Governments have tried to address obesity concerns in the nation.7 In the last 30 years, fourteen strategies have been launched and 689 policies initiated to counter obesity.7

The UK governments’ focus on obesity prevention has increased in recent years, and in particular the acknowlegment that the condition needs addressing on several fronts. In June 2023, the Government published a new health policy titled Government plans to tackle obesity in England3, which outlined ways to support healthy eating and expand NHS weight management services.

Worryingly, the number of people affected by obesity is set to increase to 1 in every 2 people by 2050.8 In summer this year, the UK Government underscored its commitment to addressing obesity via a two-year, £40 million pilot scheme to help tackle obesity in England through various measures to help ease the burden on the health system9, including:

  • Reducing the placement of less healthy foods near cashiers to reduce impulse purchases3

  • Introducing calorie labelling on food menus3

  • A soups and shakes diet for those with Type 2 diabetes3

  • £20 million investment towards the exploration of new management options and digital technologies to help monitor health3

  • £320 million investment per year in school sports and activities to encourage active lifestyles3

New advances in tackling obesity 

Another important aspect for consideration of weight-loss is the use of wearable technologies. The government announced in 2022 that they are dedicating £20 million towards exploring innovative ways to address weight management for NHS patients through digital technologies and management options.3  In a recent review of 31 studies involving 2,200 people, it was found that overweight and obese people with chronic conditions who wore a smart watch helped reduce their body weight and lower their BMI;10 on average, participants lost 6lbs (approx 2.7kg) and two BMI points as the technology provided a continuous reminder to pursue health-related goals and to be more active.10

The future of obesity research

Pfizer continues to research deeper into the condition to develop a greater understanding of the science behind obesity and how to develop new strategies to address it. As technologies and medicines advance, our in-house scientists and researchers will work together with the government to help expand options to help address obesity.


  1. House of Commons UK. Obesity statistics - House of Commons Library ( Published January 12, 2023. Last accessed November 2023. 

  2. Mayo Clinic. Obesity - Symptoms and causes - Mayo Clinic. Published July 22, 2023. Last accessed November 2023.  

  3. UK Government. Government plans to tackle obesity in England - Department of Health and Social Care Media Centre ( Published June 7, 2023. Last accessed November 2023. 

  4. UK Government. New Obesity Treatments and Technology to save the NHS Billions. Published November 27, 2022. Last accessed November 2023. 

  5. Institute for Government. Tackling obesity | Institute for Government. Published April 17, 2023. Last accessed November 2023. 

  6. Obesity Empowerment Network. Obesity-linked health problems – Obesity Empowerment Network ( Last accessed November 2023.  

  7. Theis and White. Is Obesity Policy in England Fit for Purpose? Analysis of Government Strategies and Policies, 1992–2020 - THEIS - 2021 - The Milbank Quarterly Wiley Online Library. Published January 19, 2021. Last accessed November 2023.

  8. Obesity Empowerment Network. What is obesity? – Obesity Empowerment Network ( Last accessed November 2023.  

  9. UK Government. New drugs pilot to tackle obesity and cut NHS waiting lists. Published June 6, 2023. Last accessed November 2023. 

  10. Harvard Health. Wearable fitness trackers may aid weight-loss efforts - Harvard Health. Published July 1, 2021. Last accessed November 2023.

PP-UNP-GBR-6648 / November 2023
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