Morbid obesity rates across Great Britain are set to double by 2035

The root of the problem?
The root of the problem?
Image: AP Photo/M. Spencer Green
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The rate of morbid obesity is expected to skyrocket in Great Britain across the next two decades, doubling from 1.9 million people in 2015 to more than 4 million by 2035. It’s a staggering increase that will challenge public health officials and lawmakers there to take action or risk burdening the healthcare system.

That’s because morbid obesity isn’t a single problem unto itself. Left unchecked, it raises the risk for myriad ailments including high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, sleep apnea, and some cancers. Together, those illnesses can create significant financial costs to the national health system.

These projections—the first for morbid obesity in Great Britain, according to the researchers—were presented (pdf) today (May 25) at the European Congress on Obesity in Vienna, Austria. Rates of morbid obesity are expected to reach 5% in Scotland, 8% in England, and 11% in Wales—numbers that were at 4%, 2.9%, and 3%, respectively, around 2015.

To come up with these projections, a team of researchers used height and weight data from two national health surveys of individuals aged 15 and older. They then built a model to predict body mass index trends over the next 17 years.

Further, using previous studies that took into account high adult body-mass indices for people in lower socioeconomic positions, the researchers deduced that obesity rates, in general (including both obesity and morbid obesity), would be highest among adults in routine and manual labor positions. They project obesity levels to reach about 40% for men and women in those positions, as opposed to 29% and 31% for men and women, respectively, in higher-paid managerial roles across Great Britain.

Obesity is the result of too much fat being stored in the body. Sometimes this is caused by a medical condition—such as hypothyroidism—and other times by poor dieting and a sedentary lifestyle. In the latter case, studies have shown there is a lot an individual can do, including avoiding unhealthy food and staying physically active. But there’s also plenty that can be done by governments, like adopting stricter policies around food manufacturing, transparent food labeling, and educational outreach.

Great Britain, of course, is not the only region of the world grappling with rising obesity rates. It’s happening in China, the US, and beyond. In 2014, the McKinsey Global Institute (pdf) estimated the global economic impact of obesity to be at about $2 trillion—that’s 2.8% of the global gross domestic product. The condition can also take an economic bite out of worker productivity. In 2012, the impact of obesity on America’s productivity was estimated to have cost the nation some $8.6 billion, according to a study published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.