More girls under 20 are overweight or obese in the UK than anywhere else in western Europe, alarming new research has shown.
In this age group, 29.2% of the British population are excessively heavy. Just over 8% of the girls meet the clinical definition of obesity, having a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 30 or above.
Of the 22 western European countries studied, only Greece is on a par with the UK as far as girls aged 20 and younger are concerned, with a 0.1% lower prevalence.
The study confirms previous research that has shown roughly a quarter of Britain’s adult population to be obese.
Among adults aged 20 and above, 66.6% of men and 57.2% of women were either obese or overweight, while obesity affected 24.5% and 25.4% respectively.
Commenting on the findings, published in The Lancet medical journal, Professor John Newton, of Public Health England, said: “The levels of obesity in the UK - and indeed, across the world - are of great concern. That is why Public Health England is putting in so much effort to attempt to reverse the trend.
“The challenge of obesity is at the heart of current debate about the health of the nation and we are working closely with local authorities, the NHS and the voluntary and community sector to tackle this complex issue.”
The study documented a “startling” surge in obesity and overweight rates in 188 countries around the world. Between 1980 and 2013 the number of overweight and obese people rose from 857 million to 2.1 billion.
This represents an increase of 28% for adults and 47% for children.
But the research also found enormous variation around the world, with more than half the planet’s 671 million obese individuals living in just 10 countries - the US, home to more than 13%, China, India, Russia, Brazil, Mexico, Egypt, Germany, Pakistan and Indonesia.
In the US, about a third of the adult population is now obese, while in Australia 28% of men and 30% of women fall into this category.
Of Britain’s neighbours in western Europe, tiny Andorra with a population of just over 78,000, had the best rates with 10.6% of adult men and 7.2% of women classified as obese.