Wales obesity rates higher than any other UK nation, charity says

More than a third of Welsh adults are estimated to be obese, a charity has warned, as new data reveals the problem may be worse than previously thought. 

Official figures have previously classed 26% of adults in Wales as obese. However, analysis by the innovation charity Nesta says the true figure is 34%.

This would make Wales the nation with the highest obesity rate in the UK, followed by Scotland (29%), Northern Ireland (27%) and England (26%). 

Why the data disparity? 

Official adult obesity statistics in Wales are entirely based on self-reported data. This means it is up to the individual to accurately report their health information.

According to the charity, studies from across the globe have shown people to underestimate their weight and overestimate their height when asked to self-report.

This then leads to an underestimation of their body mass index (BMI), affecting the overall data pool.

England and Scotland also use a self-report model.

However, the data gathered is then adjusted to account for human error and underestimation.

This differs from Northern Ireland’s obesity figures, which are collected by professionals and based on an individual's height and weight.

Official adult obesity stats in Wales are based on self-reported data, but Nesta's analysis shows figures to be significantly higher. Credit: Nesta, Charity

Obesity rates are also increasing among children, with the chief medical officer for Wales, Sir Frank Atherton, reporting in 2023 that nearly one in three children are overweight or obese by the time they start primary school.

According to Nesta, the data also aligns with obesity rates among children, which are also considerably higher than in both England and Wales and based on professional measurements.

The charity is calling for new First Minister Vaughan Gething to prioritise tackling obesity by working with other nations on "UK-wide innovative approaches".

Jonathan Bone, speaking on behalf of Nesta Cymru, said: "To make good decisions on public health, you need good data.

"Having consistent reporting of public health data is important and the Welsh Government’s current approach means that they could be underestimating the impact of obesity, including for people aged over 55.

"Accounting for self-reporting, including retrospectively, could improve the targeting of public health interventions and make it easier to compare data both over time and between the UK nations.”

A Welsh Government spokesperson said: "The Health Secretary is clear that reducing levels of obesity is one of her top priorities because it increases the risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease and many cancers.

"Our Healthy Weight: Healthy Wales Strategy takes a cross-government approach to reducing obesity, combining individual behaviour change with systemic change to create healthier environments and support for everyone. This includes funding to ensure lifetime weight management support for anyone in Wales who needs it."

Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To know...