Obesity is now a disease of poverty, claims public health chief

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Written By Rivera Claudia

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Obesity is now a disease of the poor, a public health chief said today. 

William Roberts, chief executive of the Royal Society of Public Health, said the change was ‘terrifying’. 

‘There is a really seismic change we haven’t seen before,’ he told a public health conference. 

‘We are at a point in history where obesity is a marker of poverty now, not a marker of wealth. 

‘For many years being obese was because you had money and could afford to eat.

‘Now obesity is a sign of poverty. 

‘We might want to reflect what that means and why that is. It is terrifying to think about.’ 

Mr Roberts was speaking at an event organised by the Local Government Association. 

In 2022 a report warned that 36.8 per cent of people in England’s most deprived areas were obese. 

For comparison, the figure was just over half that (19.2 per cent) in the richest. 

Experts have blamed the disparity partly on the rising cost of healthy foods like fresh fruit and vegetables and the plethora of junk food takeaway options in poorer neighbourhoods. 

Overall, two thirds of all British adults are now fat, compared to just half in the mid-90s. 

Of those, a quarter are obese. 

The obesity crisis is estimated to cost the nation nearly £100billion per year. 

This colossal figure includes the health harms on the NHS as well as secondary economic effects like lost earnings from people taking time off work due to illness and early deaths. 

Experts have called on ministers to tackle the crisis, demanding action on both junk and ultra-processed foods with the same aggression the Government has dedicated to smoking.

Ministers are hoping a wave of new drugs to tackle obesity, like the Ozempic weight-loss jab, will help turn the tide and get more Brits back to work. 

Earlier this year it mooted plans to roll out the game-changing drugs to trim the country’s bulging benefits bill. 


Body mass index (BMI) is a measure of body fat based on your weight in relation to your height. 

Standard Formula:

  • BMI = (weight in pounds / (height in inches x height in inches)) x 703

Metric Formula:

  • BMI = (weight in kilograms / (height in meters x height in meters))


  • Under 18.5: Underweight
  • 18.5 – 24.9: Healthy
  • 25 – 29.9: Overweight
  • 30 – 39.9: Obese 
  • 40+: Morbidly obese


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