Obesity: Has 20-year policies had any impact?

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The Prime Minister has introduced a new policy on obesity in England.

This will not be the first attempt to deal with the problem – since 1997 at least a dozen policies or white papers have been announced on the subject.

So, have 20-year goals and policies impacted?

Obesity goals

In 2008, a comprehensive report on obesity aimed at improving diet, increasing exercise, and helping individuals to overcome the problem.

It also presented two major goals:

  • The UK will be the first major country to reverse the trend of increasing obesity
  • Reducing childhood obesity levels to 2000 levels by 2020

The World Health Organization (WHO) has a measure of obesity that works by sampling people from most countries and looking at their body mass index – or BMI – to see if they were a healthy weight for their height .

In 2008, 59.5% of adults in the UK over the age of 18 were overweight or obese.

As of 2016, the figure was 63.7%. This means that, at the time, the UK had the 30th highest proportion of overweight people from the 191 countries listed.

Looking at England only, the annual health survey for England shows that 63% of adults over 16 are overweight or obese.

But this suggests that obesity rates have increased significantly since 1993, but they have stabilized in recent years.

How has obesity changed over time?

Over 16% of population in England

The second goal was to reduce childhood obesity.

Using the Health Survey for England we can estimate that the proportion of two to 10-year-olds who are obese or overweight were the same in 2018 as it was in 2000 – a total of 25%. Over the same period, the proportion of 11- to 15-year-olds who were overweight increased from 31% to 34%.

How has childhood obesity changed?

% Children who are overweight or obese

All these results are based on surveys, so there is a margin of error in the data.

In 2008, the Labor government attempted to create a more accurate picture of childhood obesity by measuring reception and almost all children in Year 6.

This data shows a more sustained increase in childhood obesity than the Health Survey for England.

Childhood obesity

% 6 year olds who are overweight, England

The Conservative-led coalition produced its own targets in 2011, leading to a continued reduction in child obesity by 2020.

We do not yet have data for 2020, but do not appear to have had a long-term shortfall.

PE is increasing in schools

In 2002, the Labor government introduced a physical education (PE) policy aimed at connecting local schools with specialist sports colleges in its region.

The plan came with the goal of getting 85% of the children to have at least two hours a week of PE or sports by 2008.

The government said they exceeded the target – reaching an estimated 25% to 86% when the scheme began.

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The plan was scrapped in 2010 by the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government. They also removed the requirement to record how much exercise was done in schools, although they said they expected the schools to maintain the current level.

There is some evidence that the time it took to do PE fell in the years that followed – from teacher surveys and also on the number of hours taught by trained PE teachers.

In 2016, conservatives announced that – using Chinese tax money – sports or PE funding would increase.

In the same year, his childhood obesity plan also recommended that children should exercise at least one hour a day, at least half an hour in school and half an hour outside of school supported by parents and carers.

How much exercise do children do?

% Of children at different levels of activity, England

For 2018–19, it was estimated that just under half of children met that goal.

Eating your 5-day meal

The 5-day slogan became government policy in 2003.

Since then, according to the NHS Health Survey for England, the proportion of adults eating five portions of fruits and vegetables a day has increased from 24% to about 28%.

On average, adults consumed 3.7 portions of fruits and vegetables a day, compared to 3.4 in 2003.

However, the ratio of eating less than two portions a day remains at around 27%.

Reducing obesity inequality

The Conservative government’s child obesity strategy stated that “the burden on those children from low-income backgrounds is falling the most”.

Over the past decade, the difference in the level of childhood obesity between the poorest and the richest has increased from 8.5 percentage points to 13.5 percent.

Obesity and lack

% Of children who are obese in the neighborhood, England

No specific goals were given.

In England, obesity rates vary significantly – more than 75% of adults in Rotherham, Hartlepool and Thurrock have Camden and less than 45% in the City of London.

Sugar tax

The UK imposed a tax on beverages that were high in sugar in April 2018. Companies have to pay:

  • PP per liter if it exceeds 8g sugar per 100ml
  • 18p per liter of drink if it contains 5 and 8g sugar per 100ml

The policy was declared a success as it was introduced as manufacturers changed the dishes of their drinks to avoid paying tax.

Between 2015 and 2018, the total amount of soft drinks sold was at least 5g of sugar per 100ml, while sales of drinks with less than 5g per 100ml grew by 40%.

Since the levy was launched, the amount of tax paid in each quarter has been higher than before, suggesting that the sugar drinks being sold do not continue to be cut.

Soft drink industry levy


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