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Around 31,000 heart and circulatory deaths attributed to excess weight and obesity every year

Heart and circulatory deaths attributed to excess weight and obesity total around 31,000 every year in the UK, British Heart Foundation analysis reveals.1

This is equivalent to around 85 deaths each day from heart and circulatory diseases which are attributable to a BMI (body mass index) of 25 or more, such as a heart attack or stroke.2 This is similar to the proportion of deaths from heart and circulatory diseases attributed to smoking – underlining the huge toll that excess weight takes on the nation’s health.3

The BHF says that the COVID-19 pandemic has put a spotlight on the urgent need to reduce Britain’s concerning obesity levels. Research has shown that living with obesity can increase your risk of serious COVID-19 illness, as well as your risk of heart and circulatory diseases and other long-term conditions like Type 2 diabetes and certain cancers.4

Around half (53%) of all deaths attributable to a high body mass index in the UK are from heart and circulatory diseases, including heart attack and stroke.5

The proportion of people with obesity in the UK has almost doubled since the early 1990s. At present in the UK, an estimated 28% of adults have obesity, classed as having a BMI of more than 30 (more than 15 million adults), while 64% have a BMI of over 25 (around 34 million adults).6 As well as being a risk factor for serious illness, living with obesity can also affect people’s overall wellbeing, often because of stigma, the charity says.

To address this major public health challenge affecting millions of people, the leading charity is calling on the Government to press ahead with introducing the package of measures set out in its obesity strategy, which it announced last year.

The causes of obesity are complex, and the nation’s obesity epidemic cannot be effectively addressed by focusing on individual willpower and exercise. As the country emerges from lockdown, the charity is urging the Government to help make the healthy option the easy option for adults and children alike. The Government’s strategy will only be successful if it changes the unhealthy environment in which we live, the BHF says.

That is why the Government must push through all measures announced earlier this year to address obesity, particularly a 9pm watershed on junk food advertising on TV and online.

The charity says both broadcast and online restrictions must be adopted, given the influence advertising has in shaping children’s eating habits and preferences. Studies show that viewing just one minute of unhealthy food advertising can lead to children consuming an additional 14.2 calories,7 and it can take as little as 46 additional calories every day to put on weight.8 Evidence also suggests that food advertising can have detrimental effects on adults’ diets.

Dr Charmaine Griffiths, Chief Executive at BHF, said: “With COVID-19 and obesity, the country faces two epidemics interacting at once.

“Obesity is not only a major risk factor for serious COVID-19 illness, but it can also increase people’s risk of developing heart and circulatory diseases, such as a heart attack or stroke. This is having tragic consequences, as our new analysis shows.

Lockdowns have been hard on everyone, with more screen time and subsequently more advertising being an inescapable part of life for children and adults alike. In these circumstances it can only be right to help make the healthy choice the easy choice – there has never been a better time to make changes that will benefit people of all ages.

We know obesity is a complex issue, and simply telling people to exercise more and eat less alone will not solve it. We need to address the key factors that make an unhealthy environment, and the Government must not waver in implementing the bold measures outlined in the obesity strategy they announced last year, such as a 9pm watershed and clear restrictions on online junk food advertising.”

References: 1. BHF analysis of the Global Burden of Disease (2020) data, 2019 estimates.  2. BHF analysis of the Global Burden of Disease (2020) data, 2019 estimates.  3. BHF analysis of the Global Burden of Disease (2020) data, 2019 estimates.  4. Excess weight and COVID-19: Insights from new evidence, Public Health England, July 2020.  5. BHF analysis of the Global Burden of Disease (2020) data, 2019 estimates.  6. BHF analysis of latest UK health and population surveys and ONS population estimates, updated Dec 2020.  7. Russell SJ, Croker H, Viner RM. The effect of screen advertising on children’s dietary intake: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Obes Rev. 2019 Apr;20(4):554-568. doi: 10.1111/obr.12812. Epub 2018 Dec 21.  8. Plachta-Danielzik S, Landsberg B, Bosy-Westphal A, Johannsen M, Lange D, Muller M. Energy gain and energy gap in normal-weight children: longitudinal data of the KOPS. Obesity (Silver Spring) 2008, 16(4).

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