More than 42m UK adults ‘will be overweight by 2040’

·3 min read
<span>Photograph: Bloomberg/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Bloomberg/Getty Images

Poorest predicted to be hit hardest by obesity crisis as government accused of ‘kicking the can down the road’

More than 42 million adults in the UK will be overweight or obese by 2040 and at higher risk of 13 types of cancer, an “alarming” report reveals, as health leaders accused ministers of “kicking the can down the road” when it comes to tackling the obesity crisis.

Data collected by Cancer Research UK (CRUK) shows that 71% of people will be overweight by 2040, a rise from 64% today. Of these, almost 36% of adults – 21 million people – will be obese. The charity described the figures as “staggering”.

“These projections should serve as a wake-up call to the government about the state of our nation’s health,” said Michelle Mitchell, the chief executive of CRUK. “Ministers mustn’t keep kicking the can down the road when it comes to tackling the obesity crisis – delaying measures that will lead to healthier food options.”

Last week, the government announced it was delaying measures to tackle unhealthy eating for 12 months. The former Conservative party leader William Hague said the weakening of the anti-obesity strategy was “morally reprehensible”.

The U-turn will mean a ban on buy-one-get-one-free deals for foods high in fat, salt and sugar will be postponed for 12 months. A ban on TV junk food adverts before a 9pm watershed has also been put on hold for a year.

“I urge them to revisit this decision and take bold action on obesity, the second biggest preventable risk factor for cancer in the UK,” said Mitchell.

Being overweight or obese increases the risk of at least 13 different types of cancer and also causes other conditions such as high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes. In the UK, an estimated 22,800 cases of cancer are attributed to obesity every year.

The CRUK report suggests the number of people who are obese could overtake the number who are a healthy weight as early as the late 2020s in England and late 2030s in Northern Ireland. For Scotland and Wales, the crossover is not expected to happen before 2040.

Prevalence of severe obesity (a body mass index above 40) is expected to almost double across the UK from 3% to 6%. About 60% of women are currently overweight or obese but this is projected to rise to 67% by 2040. Among men, 74% will be overweight or obese by 2040, up from 68% now.

The report also suggests those experiencing higher levels of deprivation could suffer the most. In 2019, 35% of people living in the most deprived areas of England were obese. This is predicted to increase to 46% by 2040. In comparison, 22% of people living in the least deprived areas were obese in 2019, with a predicted rise to 25% by 2040.

Dr Julie Sharp, the head of health and patient information at CRUK, said: “Obesity is a complex issue and the world around us can make it very difficult to keep a healthy weight.

“Government action is key in making sure that the healthy option is readily available and affordable for people and addressing the wider barriers that prevent people from living healthy lives. If these staggering trends continue, obesity will eclipse smoking as the biggest cause of cancer.”