Obesity Health Alliance calls for levelling up of health inequalities

Posted on: 4th November 2022

The Obesity Health Alliance has produced a new document highlighting the stark health inequalities experienced by people who are overweight or obese in the UK. While excess weight is prevalent nationwide, there are major disparities across age groups, geographical areas, genders, ethnic groups and for people with physical and mental disabilities.

Obesity is one of the main reasons that we are seeing huge increases in the number of people developing liver disease. As part of the Obesity Health Alliance, we have joined with over 50 health organisations to advocate for policy measures to tackle rising levels of obesity.

As well as liver disease, excess weight can lead to type-2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, many types of cancer, musculoskeletal conditions and poor mental health.

Report findings

Men living in the most deprived areas typically die almost 10 years earlier than their counterparts in the most affluent areas, while disadvantaged women typically die eight years younger. Excess weight is a key contributing factor to these higher mortality rates.

The highest rates of obesity tend to be clustered around economically deprived areas such as urban areas in northern England, coastal towns and parts of London. Some 39% of women in the most deprived groups in England are living with obesity, compared with 22% in the least deprived groups, (30% versus 22% in men). People of colour have higher obesity rates than the national average and people with learning disabilities are much more likely to be living with obesity than the general population.

The figures are continuing to grow as the numbers of obese children are increasing significantly in communities with high deprivation levels.

Adults on low incomes are more likely to have diets which are high in sugar, saturated fat and salt but low in fibre, fruit, vegetables and fish. Healthy foods are nearly three times more expensive calorie-for-calorie than less healthy foods. The poorest fifth of UK households would therefore need to spend 47% of their disposable income on food to follow the Government recommended healthy diet, compared to 11% for the richest fifth.

Vanessa Hebditch, British Liver Trust’s director of communications and policy said: “The numbers of people being diagnosed with liver disease in the UK have been increasing at an alarming rate and obesity is one of the major causes. Health inequalities between different groups are both avoidable and unfair and as a member of the Obesity Health we are calling on the Government to prioritise the levelling up of access to affordable healthy food and weight management programmes.”

The alliance is calling for health inequalities between different groups to be addressed by reducing the prevalence of obesity. It believes that improving the nation’s diets is key to levelling up society and argues for the implementation of three key measures:

  1. Reformulation of unhealthy foods and drinks which are high in sugar, salt and calories. This would have a disproportionately beneficial impact on the health of people on lower incomes. Government policies that target the food and drink industry could directly create a financial incentive to change and remove the burden of behaviour change by consumers.
  2. Restrictions on the marketing of unhealthy food and drink products, which are currently disproportionately directed at those on lower income, appropriate monitoring and enforcement of these policies, and extending restrictions to other forms of advertising including outdoor, radio and sports sponsorship.
  3. Further evidence-based measures that examine the causes of excess weight should be taken forward and well-funded, including early years interventions and improved access to weight management services.