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Diet and obesity

"Doctors are increasingly concerned about the impact of obesity on their patients and NHS resources. "

Former BMA board of science chair, Professor Sheila the Baroness Hollins

The BMA has long campaigned for measures to reduce the levels of obesity, including action targeted at improving children's diets, and increasing active travel and physical activity levels.

We believe there has been an over-reliance on personal responsibility and educational approaches, which fails to recognise the need for a range of interventions to support and promote behaviour change, including some regulatory approaches.

 

Key policies

The BMA has a range of policies covering the promotion of a healthy diet, an underlying cause of high levels of obesity. These policies include:

  • calling for a 20 per cent tax on sugar sweetened drinks
  • a mandatory traffic light approach to displaying nutritional information for all pre-packaged food and drink products
  • high impact and sustained social marketing campaigns to improve dietary attitudes and knowledge
  • phasing out artificial trans fats in the UK, reducing salt levels in all food and drink and introducing UK wide targets to reduce calorie, fat, saturated fat and added sugar levels
  • recognising the medical, psychological and social complexities of obese adults and children
  • calling for education in obesity and nutrition to be an essential component of medical training

 

Obesity and children

Food for thought Report coverThe 2015 board of science report, Food for thought: promoting a healthy diet among children and young people, brings together a range of policies targeted at children and diet, including policies on obesity, these include:

  • collaboration between schools and local authorities to deliver a whole-school approach to healthier diets
  • prohibiting the marketing of energy-dense food and drink products to children and young people
  • specific provisions preventing the marketing via non-broadcast media that appeals in any way to children and young people
  • prohibiting any sponsorship of events, activities, individuals or groups that appeal in any way to children and young people
  • restricting marketing and sponsorship of unhealthy food and drink products in schools
  • prohibiting retailers from displaying unhealthy food and drink products at checkouts and in queuing areas, targeting children
  • ensuring that all mandatory food standards apply to all academy schools and free schools
  • ensuring a free fruit and vegetable scheme is available to all primary school children throughout the UK, five days per week

Read the report

 

Healthy transport = healthy lives

As well as targeting action on children and obesity, the BMA also has a wide-range of policy covering physical activity and active travel. The 2012 board of science publication, Healthy transport = healthy lives, brings together a number of these key policies.

  • calling for a halt to the sale of assets such as school playgrounds and sports fields;
  • ambitious growth targets for walking and cycling, with increased funding and resources;
  • a call for healthcare organisations to work with local authorities to ensure support for physically active travel;
  • regulating to prioritise active and sustainable forms of transport.

Download the report

 

Further information

  • Obesity: facts and figures

    Adult population obesity statistics:

    • 26 per cent of men and 24 per cent of women in England 1
    • 24 per cent of men and 21 per cent of women in Northern Ireland 2
    • 25 per cent of men and 29 per cent of women in Scotland 3
    • 22 per cent of men and 23 per cent of women in Wales 4

    Childhood obesity statistics - for children aged 2-15:

    • 16 per cent for boys and 15 per cent for girls in England 1
    • 10 per cent for boys and girls in Northern Ireland 5
    • 17 per cent for boys and 15 per cent for girls in Scotland 6
    • 20 per cent for boys and 19 per cent for girls in Wales 7

    Across the European Union, obesity affects one in six adults (16.7 per cent) in the EU, an increase from one in eight a decade ago. However, there are considerable variations between countries. 8

    Recent modelling suggests that by 2030, 41 per cent to 48 per cent of men and 35 per cent to 43 per cent of women could be obese if trends continue. 9

     

    Physical activity statistics

    Since 1995/97, the proportion of trips where children walked to school has fallen from 47 per cent to 42 per cent, in 2013. Over the same time period the proportion of trips made by car has increased from 30 per cent to 34 per cent. 9

    55 per cent of pupils in years 1-13 of participating schools took part in at least 3 hours of high quality PE and out-of-hours school sport in a typical week. 10

    In 2012, 67 per cent of men and 55 per cent of women aged 16 and over spent at least 150 minutes per week in moderately intensive physical activity, in bouts of ten minutes or longer, or 75 minutes per week of vigorous physical activity. In both sexes, the proportion who met the guidelines generally decreased with age.

     


    1. Health and Social Care Information Centre (2014) Health survey for England 0 2013. Leeds: Health and Social Care Information Centre

    2. Public Health Information & Research Branch (2014) Health survey Northern Ireland – 2012/13. Belfast: Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety

    3. Bromley C, Dowling S, Gray L et al (2014) The Scottish health survey 2013 edition, volume 1, main report. Edinburgh: The Scottish Government

    4. Dixon J and Roberts C (2012) Welsh health survey 2013. Cardiff: Welsh Government

    5. Public Health Information and Research Branch (2012) Health survey Northern Ireland: first results from the 2011/12 survey. Belfast: Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety

    6. Bromley C, Dowling S, Gray L et al (2014) The Scottish health survey 2013 edition, volume 1, main report. Edinburgh: The Scottish Government

    7. Varney B & Roberts C (2012) Welsh health survey 2012. Cardiff: Welsh Government

    8. Health and Social Care Information Centre (2015) Statistics on obesity, physical activity and diet. Leeds: Health and Social Care Information Centre

    9. Department of Health (2009) Cost of obesity to NHS in England. London: Department of Health

    10. Department for Education (2010) PE and Sport Survey 2009/10. London: Department for Education

  • Board of science reports on obesity

    The BMA board of science have published a number of reports that bring together policies on obesity. See all our related publications: