Last updated 14 May 2019 - see all updates
There is a new version of this page. View the latest version.
1. Main facts and figures
overall, 61% of adults in England were classified as overweight or obese in 2016/17
Black adults were the most likely out of all ethnic groups to be overweight or obese, and were more than twice as likely as Chinese adults to be overweight or obese
the percentage of White British adults and Black adults who were overweight or obese was higher than the national average
the percentage of adults in the Chinese, Asian, Mixed and Other White ethnic groups who were overweight or obese was lower than the national average
the percentage of adults who were overweight or obese was similar in 2015/16 and 2016/17 for all ethnic groups
The ethnic categories used in this data
The groups were chosen after consulting data users and other stakeholders. The data has been grouped into the following broad ethnic categories:
- White British
- White Other
2. By ethnicity
|2015/16 Number of respondents
|2016/17 Number of respondents
Summary of Overweight adults By ethnicity Summary
The data for this measure is taken from the results of Sport England’s Active Lives (AL) Survey. The survey sample is randomly selected from the Royal Mail’s Postal Address File, which has a very high coverage of private residential addresses. A letter is sent to households inviting up to 2 people per household to take part in the survey, either online or by requesting a paper version of the questionnaire.
A random sampling survey design ensures results are representative of the population. There were 162,418 adults aged 18 and older who gave their height, weight and ethnicity in their survey response. Because people often underestimate their weight and overestimate their height, a person’s self-reported body mass index (BMI) is generally known to be lower than it actually is. This measure adjusts for this bias by applying a formula based on observations from several years of the Health Survey for England, which for many respondents included both self-reported and clinically measured BMIs.
Weighting: Weighting is used to adjust the results of a survey to make them representative of the population and improve their accuracy.
For example, a survey which contains 25% women and 75% men will not accurately reflect the views of the general population, which we know has an even 50/50 split.
Statisticians rebalance or ‘weight’ the survey results to more accurately represent the general population. This helps to make them more reliable.
Data has been weighted to ONS population measures for geography and key demographics.
Confidence intervals: The confidence intervals for each ethnic group are available if you download the data.
In 2016/17, 61.3% of adults surveyed reported a height and weight that determined a body mass index (BMI) of 25 or more when adjusted for bias. This is a reliable estimate of the percentage of adults in England who were overweight. However, because the AL survey results are based on a random sample of adults aged 18 or older, it’s impossible to be 100% certain of the true percentage.
It’s 95% certain that somewhere between 61.0% and 61.5% of all adults in England were overweight. In statistical terms, this is a 95% confidence interval. This means that if 100 random samples were taken, then 95 times out of 100 the estimate would fall in this range (between the upper and lower confidence interval). But 5 times out of 100 it would fall outside this range.
The smaller the survey sample, the more uncertain the estimate and the wider the confidence interval. For example, the number of people from the Chinese ethnic group sampled for this survey is relatively small, so we can be less certain about the estimate for the smaller group. This greater uncertainty for people from the Chinese ethnic group is expressed by the wider confidence interval of between 27.7% and 35.3%.
Statistically significant differences have been determined where the 95% confidence intervals of an ethnic group do not overlap with the national average or with that of the ethnic group being compared. This is a pragmatic but less precise test of the significance of differences between estimates: it is possible that a finding may be significant when confidence intervals overlap slightly.
For further details of the sampling method, weighting and confidence intervals see the Active Lives Survey technical report (PDF opens in a new window or tab).
Suppression rules and disclosure control
Data is rounded to the nearest whole number in charts and tables, and unrounded in the data downloads.
4. Data sources
Type of data
Type of statistic
Public Health England
Purpose of data source
The Active Lives (AL) Survey replaces the Active People Survey. It measures the number of people who take part in sport and physical activity by demographic group, where people live and activity type. It was carried out on behalf of Sport England by research company IPSOS-MORI.
Type of data
Type of statistic
Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport
Purpose of data source
The Active Lives Survey measures the number of people aged 16 and over who take part in sport and physical activity.
This data informs the government’s strategy on physical activity, Sporting Future, which looks at 5 aspects of physical activity:
- physical well-being
- mental well-being
- individual development
- social and community development
- economic development
The Active Lives Adults survey has previously been published twice a year – in April, which covered the full year November to November period, and in October, which covered the mid-year May to May period. Following an external consultation in early 2022, results are now only being published annually each April. Read more information about publications: https://www.sportengland.org/research/active-lives-survey/
5. Download the data
This file contains: ethnicity, financial year, value, upper and lower confidence intervals, sample size