UK rates of obesity among worst in Europe

28 November 2017        

Category: Research

Rising obesity rates and uncontrolled cholesterol levels may cause resurgence in rates of heart attacks and strokes.

Fat cells on microscope slide

Recent decreases in deaths from heart attacks and strokes in the UK may be under threat, as obesity and diabetes levels continue rise above other European countries, according to a new study from the European Cardiology SocietyThe UK now has the highest rate of obesity in males, and the second highest rate of obesity in women. 

The research was carried out at the Bart’s Heart Centre, Queen Mary University London (QMUL), with researchers from the UK, Netherlands, Belgium and Portugal. It looked at heart and circulatory disease rates and people's lifestyles in 56 mostly European countries, but also former Soviet states, North Africa and parts of the Middle East. 

They found that a huge health gap exists between high income countries like the UK, Switzerland and Spain and middle income countries like Lebanon and Egypt.  In just under half of middle income countries the rate of heart and circulatory disease has been on the rise in the last 35 years. In contrast, high income countries including the UK have seen improvements, with small but steady decreases in rates of heart and circulatory disease. Heart disease now accounts for over 50% of deaths in middle income countries compared to only 30% of deaths in higher income countries, so most high income countries are ahead. 

However the UK is falling behind many middle income countries in preventing heart disease, despite having the lowest rate of uncontrolled blood pressure and low smoking rates. The UK also has one of the largest proportions of people with high blood cholesterol and ranked third for proportion of adults who don’t exercise enough.  

Professor Sir Nilesh Samani, Medical Director at the British Heart Foundation, said:

“These new figures are a powerful reminder that cardiovascular disease is still a huge killer in the UK, despite the advances we've made in preventing and treating heart conditions through medical research.

“The high prevalence of adult obesity in the UK is particular concerning as, thanks to BHF research, we now know that being overweight or leads to damaging changes in the heart’s structure. 

“The figures also highlight the heavy burden of cardiovascular disease on women in the UK, with women being more likely to suffer from some forms of cardiovascular disease than men. Heart disease is too often perceived as a ‘man’s disease’, which means many women could be ignoring symptoms or attributing them to other problems, putting them at risk of being misdiagnosed or diagnosed late.

“Heart disease kills more than twice as many women than breast cancer in the UK each year and women need to know what to look out for so they can avoid delaying any treatment they might need.”