England’s waistband is growing. Indeed, with a quarter of adults now obese (25%) and well over a third overweight (37%), the latest Parliament Obesity Statistics suggest that England is currently experiencing an obesity crisis of unseen proportions. And it’s only going to get worse. Fast forward fifteen years and the World Health Organisation estimates that 74% of men and 64% of women in UK will be overweight.
With such a worrying acceleration in national obesity levels, how is Bristol faring? Despite the fact that Bristolians are getting heavier year on year, Bristol City Council’s data from 2013 shows a slightly better situation, with Bristol coming in slightly under the national average.
As the graph below illustrates, data from Public Health England shows that while over three quarters (76%) of Copeland’s residents are overweight, compared to around 46% of Londoners living in Kensington and Chelsea, Bristol finds itself somewhere in the middle (59%):
While Bristol weighs-in less than some other local authorities, there has still been a negative trend in recent years. Just over one in ten Bristolians (14%) were obese in 2005, while today Bristol City Council’s data shows that the average obesity rate by ward is closer to one-fifth (18%). Although the mean city-wide population overweight or obese is under the national average, in eight Bristolian wards the percentage of people who are either obese or overweight exceeds that of the national average:
The data above should serve as wake-up call for every corner of the city, but in some wards alarm bells should be ringing louder than in others. Indeed, in areas such as Filwood (40%), Avonmouth (35%), Southmead (33%), Whitchurch Park (31%) and Hilfields (30%) the high prevalence of obesity is alarming, with percentages ranging from 5% to 15% above the national average.
It is perhaps unsurprising that these five wards are also the least active neighbourhoods in Bristol. Lack of exercise is a main cause of weight gain and in Filwood, Avonmouth, Southmead, Whitchurch Park and Hilfields, an average of just two or three residents out of ten exercised at least once a week. This is in comparison to Cotham, for example, where six in ten residents claim to be active at least once every seven days. Interestingly, Cotham is also ward with the lowest obesity rate in the city.
However, it’s important to highlight that while Filwood, Avonmouth, Southmead, Whitchurch Park and Hilfields are also the areas where residents are more likely to be overweight, the city’s wards differ only very slightly in when looking at numbers of overweight residents, suggesting that weight gain is a city-wide rather than a ward-specific issue:
It is clear that Bristol and its inhabitants have not escaped the wave of obesity that has swept over the UK in the last few decades. Although the city’s overweight population is currently under the national average, Bristol faces serious challenges in the coming years in its attempt to tackle obesity and unhealthy lifestyles. The continued pressure on the NHS, the impact of stagnating incomes across the country and the growth of a fast-food culture are among several national phenomenon that could affect upon city-based healthy-living drives.