The prevalence of overweight and obesity continues to rise in England, a trend evident on a global scale. In England, 30% of children aged 2 to 15 and 60% of adults are estimated to be overweight or obese. Obesity is estimated to be responsible for 9,000 premature deaths a year in England and to reduce life expectancy by an average of 9 years. It is estimated that that the cost of obesity to the NHS is approximately £4.2 billion, with a wider economic cost of £16 billion.
The rise in overweight and obesity has been associated with changes in its social profile. Socioeconomic inequalities in obesity were inconsistently seen in children growing up in the 1960s, 70s and 80s. As rates have increased, evidence suggests that inequalities in childhood obesity have strengthened, with rates tending to increase most among children from poorer backgrounds. A similar pattern is evident among women, with rates of obesity higher among those living in poorer circumstances. In England, the age-standardised prevalence of obesity climbs from 19% among women living in households in the highest income quintile to 32% among women in the lowest income quintile. Social gradients are less pronounced for men but there is evidence that they are emerging. The recent Foresight project on obesity concluded that ‘the factors underpinning the social gradient are currently poorly understood’.
It is against this background that the Consortium's projects relating to diet, obesity and its risk factors have been set.