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4 in 10 UK adults will be obese by 2040, study finds

A new report from Cancer Research UK predicts that over 42 million adults in the UK will be overweight by 2040, with 21 million of those being classed as obese.

By using published health survey data, researchers estimated the prevalence of overweight and obese adults in the UK population over the coming years, finding that if current weight trends continue, more than 71% of the population will be overweight by the end of the next two decades.

The analysis used Body Mass Index (BMI) results going as far back as 1993 and as recent as 2020, with the hopes that the projections could be used to assess the demands the UK’s health system could face in the future.

Being obese increases the risk of developing at least 13 different types of cancer, alongside other severe medical conditions such as heart disease and high blood pressure. The chances of getting type 2 diabetes also increases, with obese people up to 80 times more likely to develop the metabolic disorder than those who have a healthy BMI.

The report comes after the Government recently announced it was delaying its proposed ban on multi-buy deals for junk food and pre-watershed TV advertising. While the legislation was part of the Government’s larger strategy to curb obesity and tackle health disparities, the estimated figures released by Cancer Research UK indicate a growing need to address the nation’s obesity crisis.

Michelle Mitchell, chief executive of Cancer Research UK, said: “ These projections should serve as a wake-up call to the Government about the state of our nation’s health. 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.

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

The study also highlights a significant increase in obesity prevalence in those experiencing higher levels of deprivation.

In England, 35% of people living in the most deprived areas were obese in 2019, with this number expected to rise to nearly half (46%) by 2040. While in the least disadvantaged areas, only 22% of adults were obese in 2019, with that number expected to rise by 25%.

“The report shows a stark and growing difference between obesity rates in those that are least well off and most well off,’ Mitchell concluded.

Dr Julie Sharp, head of health and patient information at Cancer Research UK, 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 to 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.”

The results of this study are published on the Cancer Research UK website.

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