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Publication, Part of

Statistics on Obesity, Physical Activity and Diet, England, 2020

Official statistics, National statistics

National Statistics

Part 3: Adult overweight and obesity

Overweight and obesity are terms that refer to an excess of body fat and they usually relate to increased weight-for-height. The most common method of measuring obesity is the Body Mass Index (BMI).

BMI = Person’s weight (kg) / Person’s height (in metres)².

In adults, a BMI of 25kg/m² to 29.9kg/m² means that person is considered to be overweight, a BMI of 30kg/m² or higher means that person is considered to be obese. A BMI of 40kg/m² or higher means that person is considered to be morbidly obese. The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) recommends the use of BMI in conjunction with waist circumference as the method of measuring overweight and obesity and determining health risks. 

BMI does not distinguish between mass due to body fat and mass due to muscular physique, nor the distribution of fat. In order to measure abdominal obesity, waist circumference is measured, and categorised into desirable, high and very high, by sex-specific thresholds (cm):

  • Men: Desirable = Less than 94, High = 94-102, Very high = More than 102
  • Women: Desirable = Less than 80, High = 80-88, Very high = More than 88

The main source of the data on overweight and obesity information is the Health Survey for England (HSE), and covers adults aged 16 and over. 

Overweight and obesity prevalence

Prevalence by year

The majority of adults in England in 2018 were overweight or obese (63%).

Obesity prevalence increased steeply between 1993 and around 2000, with a slower rate of increase after that. In 2018, the proportion of adults who were obese was 28%.

Morbid obesity has also increased, from fewer than 1% in 1993, to 3% in 2018.


Prevalence by gender

Overall, 67% of men and 60% of women were classed as overweight or obese. Being overweight but not obese was more common among men than women. However, obesity (including morbid obesity) was more common in women than men.

Prevalence by region (overweight or obese) 

Regional prevalence data has been age standardised.

The proportion of adults who were overweight or obese according to their BMI varied by region. The lowest levels were in London, and the highest levels in North East and the West Midlands. There was no statistically significant variation for obesity.

Prevalence by age

The proportion of adults who were overweight or obese increased with age among both men and women. It was highest among men aged between 55 and 64 (82%), and women aged between 65 and 74 (70%).

The proportion of adults who were obese also increased with age and was highest among men aged between 45 and 54 (36%), and among women aged between 55 and 64 (37%).

Obesity prevalence in the UK compared with other Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries

PLEASE NOTE: This section has not been subject to an update since the previous version of this publication.

Comparisons are based on data for adults aged 15 and over, or closest available. Data is for 2017 or nearest available year. Only countries with measured data are included here. 

The UK reports an adult obesity level of 26%. This is 14 percentage points lower than the USA which reports the highest adult obesity level.

Japan and Korea report obesity levels of less than 10%.


For more data/information on this section: 

Adult and child overweight and obesity report, Health Survey for England, 2018

OECD health statistics online database


Health risks associated with obesity, overweight and waist circumference

Health risk associated with BMI and waist circumference

National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) guidance recommends that for people with a BMI less than 35kg/m², the assessment of health risks associated with being overweight or obese be based on BMI and waist circumference. For adults with a BMI of 35kg/m² or more, risks are assumed to be very high with any waist circumference.

Obese I: 30 to less than 35kg/m²; Obesity II: 35 to less than 40kg/m²; Obesity III: 40kg/m² or more.   

40% of adults were classified as being in the high or very high risk groups. Women were more likely than men to be in the high or very high risk groups (46% and 35% respectively).  45% of men were at no increased risk compared to 40% of women.

Data in the table has been rounded so quoted totals may not equal sum of parts. Adults who were underweight are not classified.

Diabetes status by waist circumference

Total diabetes (diagnosed and undiagnosed) was associated with central obesity, measured by waist circumference. 14% of men and 10% of women with a very high waist circumference had either diagnosed or undiagnosed diabetes. This compared to 6% of men and 3% of women with high waist circumferences and 5% of men and 4% of women with a desirable waist circumference.

Diabetes status by BMI

Diagnosed, undiagnosed and total diabetes were all associated with BMI status. Prevalence of total diabetes was greatest among those who were obese (13% of men and 12% of women) compared to those who were overweight but not obese (7% of men and 6% of women), or those who were not obese or overweight (6% and 4% respectively).


For more data/information on this section: 

Adult and child overweight and obesity report, Health Survey for England, 2018

Last edited: 8 July 2021 5:17 pm