Overweight adults

The main facts and figures show that:

  • 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

Things you need to know

The data shown here is based on the Active Lives Survey. This survey has been used to collect data on obesity in adults since 2015/16. Before 2015/16, data was based on responses to the Active People Survey. Although data is available for the years before 2015/16, it is not comparable due to differences in the surveys’ questions and how responses were collected.

Keep in mind that all survey estimates are based on a sample of the population, rather than the whole population. This means there’s a degree of uncertainty which is greater when the number of respondents is small. There are usually fewer respondents from ethnic minority groups due to the make-up of the general population – therefore, the level of uncertainty is higher for these groups.

The commentary for this data only includes reliable, or 'statistically significant', findings. Findings are statistically significant when we can be confident that they can be repeated, and are reflective of the total population rather than just the survey sample.

Although the percentage of Black adults who were overweight or obese appeared to fall from 73% in 2015/16 to 69% in 2016/17, this was not found to be reliable in significance testing. This is based on a test for overlaps in the confidence intervals around these estimates, which indicate the degree of uncertainty, and are described in Methodology. However, a more precise test of significance might find the difference to be reliable.

Participants complete the Active Lives (AL) survey online. It’s likely that all self-completion surveys elicit different results to other methods such as face-to-face interviews.

People often underestimate their weight and overestimate their height so their self-reported body mass index (BMIs) are known to be lower than they actually are. 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.

Ethnicity data was not available for 2.3% of respondents in 2016/17. The unknown ethnicity group is included in the ‘All’ group but not identified separately in the charts and tables shown here.

What the data measures

This data provides an estimate of the percentage of adults (aged 18 and older) in England who were overweight or obese, broken down by ethnicity.

The data source is Sport England’s Active Lives (AL) Survey, where participants were asked their height and weight. These were then used to determine their body mass index (BMI), which indicates if a person is overweight or obese.

BMI is calculated by dividing a person's weight in kilograms by the square of their height in metres. Adults with a BMI of 25 or more are classed as overweight, while adults with a BMI of 30 or more are classed as obese. The BMI figures are then adjusted using a formula that compensates for some people misrepresenting their weight when reporting it themselves.

The percentage of adults who were classified as overweight or obese is calculated by dividing the number of respondents whose adjusted BMI was 25 or higher by the total number of people who gave their weight and height.

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:

  • Asian
  • Black
  • Chinese
  • Mixed
  • White British
  • White Other
  • Other

Ethnic groups and how data on ethnicity is collected

Overweight or obese adults by ethnicity

Percentage of adults who were overweight or obese by ethnicity (2015/16 and 2016/17)

2015/16 2016/17
Ethnicity % Number of respondents % Number of respondents
All 61 170,273 61 166,213
Asian 58 6,018 56 6,142
Black 73 1,998 69 1,987
Chinese 36 857 32 873
Mixed 55 1,529 57 1,616
White British 62 146,869 62 142,038
White other 57 8,610 58 8,678
Other 58 1,191 59 1,084

Download table data (CSV) Source data (CSV)

Summary

  • overall, 61% of adults in England were classified as overweight or obese in 2016/17

  • at 69%, adults from the Black ethnic group were the most likely out of all ethnic groups to be overweight or obese, and they were more than twice as likely to be overweight or obese as adults in the Chinese ethnic group (32%)

  • the percentage of adults who were overweight or obese was also higher than the national average for the White British (62%) ethnic group

  • in addition to the Chinese ethnic group, the percentage of adults who were overweight or obese was lower than the national average in the Asian (56%), Mixed (57%) and Other White (58%) ethnic groups

  • the percentage of adults who were overweight or obese was similar in 2015/16 and 2016/17 for all ethnic groups

Methodology

Methodology

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.

Suppression rules and disclosure control

None applied.

Rounding

Data is rounded to the nearest whole number in charts and tables, and unrounded in the data downloads.

Data sources

Source

Type of data

Survey data

Type of statistic

Official statistics

Publisher

Public Health England

Publication frequency

Yearly

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.

Secondary source

Type of statistic

Official statistics

Publisher

Sport England

Publication frequency

Yearly

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.

Download the data

Overweight adults - Spreadsheet (csv) 2 KB

This file contains: ethnicity, financial year, value, upper and lower confidence intervals, sample size