Half of English people say they're overweight, obese or morbidly obese; the NHS says it’s two thirds

Eir NolsoeData Journalist
July 20, 2021, 9:34 AM GMT+0

Many English adults seem to be unaware – or in denial – about being obese

The Prime Minister’s brush with death during the first coronavirus wave became a catalyst for a new government strategy to tackle obesity. Boris Johnson, who previously labelled such policies government “nannying” and a “sin tax”, has lost at least a stone since his COVID-19 scare. Now he wants Britons to follow with incentives such as shopping vouchers and better GP help.

But when comparing YouGov data with official NHS statistics it becomes clear that many people who are overweight, obese or morbidly obese don’t perceive themselves that way – and this is especially the case with older men.

Two in five people in England (41%) describe their body weight as “normal”. But only a third of English adults (34%) fit this category according to the Health Survey for England 2019, which was published last December.

In fact, two thirds of English adults (64%) are either overweight (36%), obese (25%) or morbidly obese (3%), according to the NHS. But when surveyed by YouGov, only half of people in England (52%) classed themselves as such (40% overweight, 9% obese, 3% morbidly obese).

The NHS categorises people with a Body Mass Index (BMI) over 25 as overweight, while over 30 is obese and over 40 is morbidly obese.

One in six men fail to class themselves as being overweight, obese or morbidly obese

Women and men are equally likely to say they weigh too much, at 52% each. But according to the NHS the figures are 60% for women and 68% for men.

Men aged 55 to 64 are the most likely to underestimate which category they are in. While four in five men in this age group (79%) are overweight, obese or morbidly obese, only 55% would label themselves as such. This means that as many as one in four fail to acknowledge that they weigh too much.

Young men are the least likely to underestimate their weight, with a quarter (27%) classing themselves as overweight, obese or morbidly obese – although this is still ten points lower than official estimates at 37%.

The gap between self-reported and NHS figures is smaller among women. Across all age groups, it ranges from 5 to 11 points. The youngest and oldest women are the most likely to underestimate their weight. While around one in four women aged 18 to 24 (26%) say they are overweight, obese or morbidly obese, the NHS number is 37%. Similarly, three in five women aged 65+ (58%) say this applies to them, while the NHS has the number is 69%.

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