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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

In 2016, it was announced that a new levy on sugar sweetened drinks would be introduced from 2018.


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:

    • 27% of adults in England are obese. A further 36% are overweight. 1
    • 25% of adults in Wales are obese. A further 35% are overweight. 2
    • 26% of adults in Northern Ireland are obese. A further 34% are overweight. 3
    • 29% of adults in Scotland are obese. A further 36% are overweight. 4

    Childhood obesity statistics - for children aged 2-15:

    • 14% of children in England are obese. Over 1 in 5 children in Reception, and over 1 in 3 children in Year 6 are measured as obese or overweight. 1
    • 19% of children in Wales are obese. 2
    • 15% of children in Scotland are obese. 3
    • 9% of children in Northern Ireland are obese. 4
    • Across the European Union, obesity affects 10-30% and overweight affects 30-70% of adults. 5

    Physical activity statistics

    • In England in 2015/16, 26% of adults were classified as inactive (fewer than 30 minutes physical activity a week). 6
    • In England and Scotland in 2012, 67% of men aged 16 and over met the physical activity guidelines for adults (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 England, 55% of women met these guidelines. In both sexes, the proportion who met the guidelines generally decreased with age. 7,8
    • In Wales in 2016/17, 47% of adults took part at least in sport of physical recreation once a week. 9
    • In Northern Ireland in 2016/17, 55% of adults reported meeting the Chief Medical Officer's physical activity recommendations. 10
    • In England, the proportion of boys who met the guidelines for children (60 minutes a day in moderate to vigorous physical activity) increased from 21% in 2012, to 23% in 2015. The proportion of girls who met these guidelines increased from 16% in 2012 to 20% in 2015. 6


    1. NHS Digital (2016) Health Survey for England, 2015: Trend tables. NHS Digital
    2. Welsh Government (2016) Welsh Health Survey 2012 - Welsh Health Survey 2012 - Chapter 6: Health of Children. Welsh Government
    3. The Scottish Government (2016) The Scottish Health Survey 2014: Volume 1: Main Report. The Scottish Government.
    4. Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety Northern Ireland (2016) Health Survey Northern Ireland: first results 2015/16. Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety Northern Ireland. 
    5. euro.who.int/en/health-topics/noncommunicable-diseases/obesity/data-and-statistics
    6. NHS Digital (2017) Statistics on Obesity, Physical Activity and Diet, England: 2017. NHS Digital.
    7. NHS Digital (2013) Health Survey for England – 2012. NHS Digital.
    8. British Heart Foundation (2015) Physical Activity Statistics 2015. British Heart Foundation.
    9. Welsh Government (2017) National Survey for Wales. Welsh Government.   
    10. Department of Health (2017) Health Survey (NI) First Results 2016/17. Department of Health.
  • 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: