The UK is the most obese country in western Europe, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.
Its annual Health at a Glance report, published on Friday, shows that 26.9% of the UK population had a body mass index of 30 and above, the official definition of obesity, in 2015. Only five of the OECD’s 35 member states had higher levels of obesity, with four outside Europe and one in eastern Europe.
The OECD’s report, which says obesity in the UK has increased by 92% since the 1990s, illustrates the scale of the public health challenge, with fears it could bankrupt the NHS.
Tam Fry, chair of the National Obesity Forum, said: “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.
“Even today, we have only a pathetic attempt by Theresa May’s administration to get serious about reducing the numbers and avoiding an official estimate that more than 50% of the UK will be obese by 2050. 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.”
The government was heavily criticised when it launched its childhood obesity strategy last year for its reliance on voluntary action by the food and drink industry and lack of restrictions on junk food marketing and advertising.
Along with smoking, obesity is one of the two main drivers behind the biggest killers of the modern world: cancers, heart attacks, strokes and diabetes. The report comes the day after official figures were published showing a record number of caesareans (28% of all births) in English hospitals in 2016-17, up 11% in five years. The increase was partly attributed to rising obesity levels, accompanied as it was by statistics showing one in five women pregnant women have a BMI greater than 30.