Tuesday, June 6, 2023

Obesogenic environments: the UK government needs to act now

  1. Michael Craig Watson, trustee,
  2. John Lloyd, honorary vice president

  1. Institute of Health Promotion and Education, Lichfield, UK
  1. mcwatson100{at}gmail.com

McNally is correct in saying that many current environments promote high energy intake and sedentary behaviour.1 Exposure to obesogenic environments is growing across the globe and the obesity epidemic is likely to increase if actions are not taken by governments.2

There are many facets to obesogenic environments including the foods that are available, affordable, and promoted; opportunities for physical activity; and social norms.2 Within the UK there are considerable variations in environment and some population groups are more at risk of becoming obese.

Excess weight in adults varies between social groups in relation to deprivation, disability, ethnicity, and education.3 There are also considerable variations in relation to different local authorities. The estimated percentage who are overweight or obese in Cambridge is 50%, whereas in Hartlepool it is 75%.3

Evidence from the past few decades indicates that the portion sizes of many food products have increased.45 Cakes, coffee, and courses in some establishments, for example, have become bigger. These larger food portion sizes may change perceptions and affect the amount of food people eat in the future.6

The importance of schools as health promoting settings has long been recognised.78 The subtle messages pupils receive about health from the daily life of the school are as important as the curriculum. Schools need to provide healthy meals and access to sugar free drinks, and encourage regular physical activity.

There is no single intervention to promote healthy eating or halt the rise of the obesity epidemic and action will be needed in many settings.910 We believe it is the responsibility of governments to ensure that policies create health promoting environments and provide support so that people will have optimal health at each stage of the life course. There is an urgent need for the government to act now to improve the health of this generation and the next.


  1. Lloyd J. Compassion through development of physical and mental health and well-being. In: Towards the Compassionate School. Coles MI, ed. Trentham Books/IOE Press, 2015.

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