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Health survey reveals association between parent and child obesity

Children of obese parents are more likely to be obese themselves than children whose parents are not overweight or obese, according to NHS Digital figures released today.

Download the Health Survey for England infographic.

Children of obese parents are more likely to be obese themselves than children whose parents are not overweight or obese, according to NHS Digital figures released today.

The Health Survey for England 20171 monitors trends in the nation’s health and surveyed 8000 adults and 2000 children about a variety of topics including obesity, smoking, and drinking.

Parent and child obesity

For the first time, the annual survey has analysed the association between parent and child weight2, looking at those who are overweight and obese3.

28% of children of an obese mother were also obese, compared with 8% of children whose mother was not overweight or obese. 24% of children of an obese father were also obese, compared with 9% of children where the father was not overweight or obese.

The survey shows that most adults surveyed (64%) were overweight or obese. More men (67%) than women (62%) were overweight or obese. Approximately a third of children (30%) aged 2 to 15 in England were overweight or obese in 2017.

Around half of parents (47% of mothers and 52% of fathers) think that their obese child is about the right weight.

Adult multiple risk factors

New analysis shows the prevalence of unhealthy lifestyle behaviours in adults and the number of those with more than one risk factor to their health. A multiple risk score is calculated by combining information on whether individuals:

  • Smoke cigarettes
  • Drink more than 14 units of alcohol a week4
  • Eat fewer than 5 portions of fruit and vegetables a day
  • Are obese
  • Have low physical activity.

13% of adults had no risk factors, and 36% had only one risk. 32% of adults had a combination of two risks and 19% had three or more.

Men are more likely (54%) than women (47%) to have two or more risk factors. The pattern of combinations of risk factors varied between men and women.

Regionally, the West Midlands (58%) had the highest proportion of adults with two or more risk factors while London had the lowest (43%).

Adults in the lowest income households (26%) were twice as likely as those in highest income households (13%) to have three or more risk factors.

Other topics this year include:

Chronic pain

34% of all adults had chronic pain, defined as pain or discomfort that had troubled them all the time, or on and off, for more than the last three months. This increased with age, ranging from 16% among adults aged 16 to 24 to 53% among adults aged 75 and over.


The proportion of adults reporting doctor-diagnosed diabetes increased between 19945 and 2017, with some year-on-year fluctuation, from 3% to 8% among men and from 2% to 5% among women. The increase has been largest for those aged 65 to 74, increasing from 5% in 1994 to 15% in 2017. 

The survey also measured diabetes in a second way, by whether glycated haemoglobin (HbA1c) levels in blood samples collected at the nurse visit were raised or not. The combination of measures indicated that 20% of adults with diabetes were undiagnosed6.

The Health Survey for England gathers information from both adults and children and is commissioned by NHS Digital and carried out by NatCen Social Research in conjunction with University College London, who co-author the report.


Read the full report

Health Survey for England 2017

Notes to editors

  1. The Health Survey for England provides information about adults aged 16 and over, and children aged 0 to 15, living in private households in England. The survey consists of an interview in person, followed by a visit from a nurse who takes a number of measurements and samples. A total of 7,997 adults (aged 16 and over) and 1,985 children (aged 0 to 15) were interviewed in the 2017 survey. 5,196 adults and 1,195 children had a nurse visit. The sample is designed to represent the whole population as accurately as possible within practical constraints, such as time and cost. Consequently, statistics based on the survey are estimates, rather than precise figures, and are subject to a margin of error. The sample who take part in the survey is weighted to provide statistics that are representative of the population. For further details see the Methods report.
  2. This is based on cases where both parental and child heights and weights are known.  A parent is defined as someone who has legal parental responsibility for the child on a permanent basis so a step parent would not be considered unless they have taken on legal responsibility for the child.
  3. This has been measured using Body Mass Index (BMI) defined as weight in kilograms divided by the height in metres squared (kg/m2).  This has been used as a measure of obesity in the HSE series. BMI does not distinguish between mass due to body fat and mass due to muscular physique. It also does not take account of the distribution of fat. It has therefore been suggested that waist circumference, waist to hip ratio or waist to height ratio may be useful supplements to BMI to identify central (abdominal) obesity, which increases the health risk from being overweight. More recently, waist circumference has been identified as the most useful of these three measures of central obesity in determining health risk.
  4. Drinking 14 or fewer units of alcohol a week is defined as drinking at low risk levels in the UK Chief Medical Officers’ Low Risk Drinking Guidelines, 2016    
  5. The first comparable year that these questions were included in the survey
  6. Total diabetes in the population includes all participants with a glycated haemoglobin (HbA1c) level of 48mmol/mol or above, which is diagnostic of diabetes, as well as those who reported having diabetes diagnosed by a doctor. Among those with total diabetes, participants with a raised HbA1c who did not report having doctor-diagnosed diabetes are defined as having undiagnosed diabetes.

NHS Digital is the national information and technology partner of the health and care system.  Our team of information analysis, technology and project management experts create, deliver and manage the crucial digital systems, services, products and standards upon which health and care professionals depend.  During the 2017/18 financial year, NHS Digital published 275 statistical reports. Our vision is to harness the power of information and technology to make health and care better.

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Last edited: 14 February 2020 9:48 am