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Number of morbidly obese will double in 20 years

By 2035 over four million adults will be morbidly obese across England, Wales, and Scotland

Ingrid Torjesen

Wednesday, 30 May 2018

Numbers of morbidly obese adults (BMI of 40kg/m² or over) in England, Wales, and Scotland, are expected to soar over the next 17 years, and likely to exceed four million by 2035 - more than double the 1.9 million in 2015, according to research* presented at this year's European Congress on Obesity (ECO) in Vienna, Austria (23-26 May).

The highest prevalence of morbid obesity will be seen in Wales, with around 13% of Welsh men and 9% of Welsh women likely to be morbidly obese by 2035 if current trends continue.

For the study Laura Keaver from the CRISP research group at the Institute of Technology, Sligo, Ireland, and Dr Laura Webber from the UK Health Forum, London, used height and weight data from the Health Survey for England, Welsh Health Survey, and the Scottish Health Survey (2004-14) for adults aged 15 and older (in five year age groups) to create a model predicting BMI trends (healthy weight, overweight, obesity, and morbid obesity) over the next 17 years.

The new estimates indicate that rates of morbid obesity in adults will reach 5% in Scotland (compared to 4% in 2015), 8% in England (2.9% in 2016), and 11% in Wales (3% in 2015) by 2035.

The researchers said: "Our study reveals a worrying picture of rising morbid obesity across England, Wales, and Scotland that is likely to weigh heavily on healthcare systems and economies. Strong measures to reverse this future trend must be an important public health priority."

In further analyses, the research team predicted future trends in social inequalities in obesity (BMI of 30kg/m² or over) by modelling BMI data from the health surveys to project trends in adult obesity prevalence (aged 16 or older) according to their sex and social group (occupation and education).

This modelling suggested that by 2035 obesity rates will be highest, and see the greatest rise, in adults working in routine and manual positions. As a result, the difference in obesity levels between those in managerial roles (29% males, 31% females) and those in routine and manual roles (39% males, 40% females) is expected to widen in England and Wales (with the exception of English females where it is expected to reduce).

In contrast, the gap in obesity levels between those with less than tertiary education (i.e., university or trade school/college) and those with tertiary education is projected to close in all countries with the exception of Welsh females where it is projected to increase.

The researchers warned that the increase in prevalence will have huge health and financial implications for health services and society. Morbid obesity entails far more serious health consequences than moderate obesity and already accounts for around a third of all obesity-related costs.

"Our findings highlight that future interventions to tackle obesity must be accessible to everyone and should be designed to impact all sectors of society to further reduce these inequalities," they added.

*Keaver, L.; Xu, B.; Jaccard, A.; et al. Morbid obesity projections in the UK to 2035. Research presented at this year's European Congress on Obesity (ECO) in Vienna, Austria (23-26 May).

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