Are the British too fat?

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Source: OECD

Recent OECD statistics paint a grim picture of obesity in the UK: nearly 25% of Britons are obese and over 60% overweight, compared to an average of 16% and 50% for the OECD as a whole. And while the British can take comfort in the fact that England is far from the fattest country in the world (the United States wins that booby prize by a wide margin), the projections are alarming. The OECD estimates British waistlines will continue to balloon till 2020, at which point about 70% of the country’s population will be overweight.

The technical definition of obesity is a body mass index (BMI) of between 30 kg/ meter of height squared–overweight is defined as between 25-30kg/meter of height squared (the BMI estimates a person’s body fat based on the proportion of his or her weight to height). Obesity markedly increases the risk of developing serious medical conditions, including

  • heart disease
  • type 2 diabetes
  • breathing disorders (such as sleep apnea)
  • certain cancers

The current “obesity epidemic” is the result of both unhealthy eating habits and a global decrease in physical activity (the dark side of the information age). This has serious implications not only for individuals’ health, but also countries’ entire healthcare systems. The OECD noted that

rates are highest in the United States and Mexico and lowest in Japan and Korea, but have been growing virtually everywhere. Children have not been spared, with up to 1 in 3 currently overweight. Severely obese people die 8-10 years sooner than those of normal-weight, similar to smokers, and they are more likely to develop diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer. Obesity is a burden on health systems, with health care expenditure for an obese person at least 25% higher than for someone of normal weight.

So it’s not just the British who are too fat–we all are.

Expats looking to protect their children from the scourge of fat should take careful note of HSBC’s Expat Explorer findings: kids in Spain, Australia and Canada tended to watch less TV, play less video games and eat less junk food, all while spending more time outdoors and playing more sports.