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Obesity contributes to more deaths than smoking in Scotland and England – study

By Emma O'Neill, PA Scotland

Obesity is now a bigger cause of deaths in Scotland and England than smoking, according to new research.

Since 2014, obesity and excess body fat has been a higher contributor of deaths than smoking in both Scotland and England, research published in the BMC Public Health journal has shown.

The authors, from Glasgow University, analysed data collected between 2003 and 2017 as part of the Health Surveys for England and Scottish Health Surveys of 192,239 adults across England and Scotland. The respondents were 50 years old on average.

The team found that between 2003 and 2017, deaths attributable to smoking decreased from 23.1% to 19.4%.

In the same period, deaths attributed to obesity and excess body fat have increased from 17.9% to 23.1%, with the overtake occurring in 2014.

Jill Pell, who was one of the authors of the article, said: “For several decades smoking has been a major target of public health interventions as it is a leading cause of avoidable deaths.

“As a result, the prevalence of smoking has fallen in the UK. At the same time the prevalence of obesity has increased.

“Our research indicates that, since 2014, obesity and excess body fat may have contributed to more deaths in England and Scotland than smoking.”

However, the researchers found that while obesity was likely to cause more deaths in older adults, smoking was still more likely to contribute to deaths in younger adults.

The data showed that among those aged 65 and over and 45-64 respectively, obesity and excess body fat contributed to 3.5% and 3.4% more estimated deaths than smoking in 2017.

However, in the 16-44 age group, smoking was 2.4% more likely to have contributed to deaths than obesity.

Researchers also found that there was a gender division in the statistics.

Obesity and excess body fat was likely to have accounted for 5.2% more deaths in 2017 than smoking in men, compared to 2.2% more deaths in women.

Professor Pell said: “The increase in estimated deaths due to obesity and excess body fat is likely to be due to their contributions to cancer and cardiovascular disease.

“Our findings suggest that the public health and policy interventions aimed at reducing the prevalence of smoking have been successful and that national strategies to address obesity and excess body fat, particularly focusing on middle-aged and older age groups and men, should be a public health priority.”

Jess Kuehne, of the Centre for Ageing Better, said: “The discussion around obesity often focuses on children but, as these figures confirm, obesity is a major concern for people in later stages of life.

“With more of us living longer but increasingly in much poorer health, it is time we turned our focus to tackling obesity at every stage of life – including older ages.”

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