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UK: Rising numbers of adults in the UK misjudge their health as obesity crisis grows

Growing numbers of UK adults are misjudging their health, according to Aviva’s Autumn Health Check UK Report.

Over a third (36%) of UK adults who are classified as obese – with a Body Mass Index (BMI) of over 30 – believe they are in very good or excellent health, despite being at a higher risk of developing life-threatening diseases such as type II diabetes and heart disease. This figure has risen by four percentage points in the past 18 months from 32% (Aviva Health Check UK report, Spring 2014), suggesting more UK adults are ignorant of their current health status.

Among those UK adults considered overweight – with a BMI between 25 and 29.9 – more than half (53%) believe they are healthy, up from 49% in Spring 2014. Only two fifths of UK adults have a healthy weight (43%) – equivalent to a BMI of 18.5 to 24.9 – down from 44% 18 months ago.

Table 1: Percentage of UK adults who consider themselves as having very good and excellent health

BMI                            Spring 2014                          Autumn 2015            
Healthy                64%                63%
Overweight                49%                53%
Obese                32%                36%

The report also suggests that only a small number of those with unhealthy BMIs are seeking help from their GP to manage their weight. Less than one in ten (8%) obese people sought this form of help in the last year, compared to 12% in Spring 2014.

Despite half (50%) of UK adults being classified as either overweight (31%) or obese (19%), only 36% overall wish to lose weight or improve their BMI compared to 39% 18 months ago.

According to Aviva’s research, over half (51%) of those considered overweight, based on their BMI, have no desire to lose weight, rising from 47% 18 months ago. Additionally, over a third (37%) of those classified as obese do not see the need to improve their weight – rising sharply from Spring 2014 when 28% did not list this as a health ambition.

Figures show that over the past five years, the NHS has spent at least £7million on adapting services and equipment to cater for obese patients. This also includes services dealing with the causes, prevention, and treatment of obesity.1

Health gender gap is growing

There is a growing gender disparity between those considered a healthy weight and those who are overweight. Almost half of women (46%) have a healthy BMI, the same proportion as in Spring 2014. However, only 39% of men in the UK fall into this category, down from 41% 18 months ago. The increasing proportion of men considered overweight – from 35% to 38% – over the past 18 months accounts for this shift as fewer men are considered healthy than before.

Table 2: percentage breakdown of BMIs amongst UK adults by gender

BMI Male

Spring 2014


Autumn 2015




Spring 2014


Autumn 2015



Healthy 41% 39% -2% 46% 46%
Overweight 35% 38% 3% 27% 23% -4%
Very overweight 19% 18% -1% 19% 19%

Totals do not add up to 100% as a small percentage chose not to answer. Underweight is not included in the breakdown due to sample size.

Majority of UK adults fail to meet dietary recommendations
According to Aviva’s report, barely one in five (22%) UK adults are eating the suggested target of five portions of fruit or vegetables per day. This has slightly improved from 20% over the past 18 months, however it still leaves a large majority who are failing to maintain a healthy diet.

Nevertheless, diet habits amongst UK adults have improved in some areas. Fewer are consuming five or more shots of caffeine per day, falling from 28% to 22% over the past 18 months. In addition, the percentage who eat a portion of chocolate or crisps every day has fallen from 34% to 32% and those who drink a fizzy drink every day has dropped from 26% to 23% in the same period.

More UK adults are finding excuses not to exercise
Worryingly, over two fifths (42%) of UK adults said they were uncertain how much exercise they should be doing, up significantly from 35% 18 months ago. Diet is only half the battle of having a healthy lifestyle; exercise should also play a key role.

The NHS recommends that adults aged 19-64 should carry out at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity each week, equating to 30 minutes every week day2 . However, almost a fifth (17%) say they never exercise, the same level as 18 months ago.

Boredom and tiredness are becoming the greatest barriers preventing adults from exercising. Almost three in five (59%) claim they know they should be doing more exercise but find it boring or hard work, rising from 56% in Spring 2014. Over two in five (43%) say they are too tired to exercise, compared to 39% 18 months ago.

Dr Doug Wright, Medical Director for Aviva UK Health says,

“Health issues continue to be a daily conversation among adults in the UK, with lots of discussion around diet and exercise. However, these conversations do not always equate to how we actually live our lives.

“The research for our Autumn Health Check UK Report shows worrying numbers have major misconceptions of their own health that sadly do not align with reality. We are seeing more and more adults considered overweight, with a BMI of over 25, who are not being proactive in improving their health through exercise, diet or by seeking advice.

“There are many ways to find information to improve your health, from online guides on trusted websites (such as the NHS Live Well site) to visiting your local GP. Taking simple steps, such as increasing your daily fruit and vegetable consumption or walking part of your daily journey, can quickly put you on track to a healthier lifestyle. It is really important that those with an unhealthy weight start to take control of their own health, as being overweight can lead to serious long-term illnesses like diabetes.”

All percentages and figures shown in this report (unless otherwise cited) come from an online survey conducted by ICM research for Aviva UK Health. The survey was carried out in August 2015. Respondents were invited from ICM’s online panel and 2,004 interviews were conducted amongst a nationally representative sample of the UK adult population.


1 Based on Government data from Freedom of Information requests, sourced by Sky News http://news.sky.com/story/1575334/nhs-spends-millions-on-larger-equipment-for-obese