Seventy-four per cent of men and 64 per cent of women in Britain will be overweight or obese by 2030, or so the newspapers have reported today. In Ireland, the situation will be still worse, with the obesity rate amongst women predicted to rise from 23 per cent today to 57 per cent (!) in 2030, with 89 per cent of Irish men overweight.
The research in question was presented at a conference in Prague today but remains unpublished so we do not know how its authors arrived at these figures. A representative of the World Health Organisation says, ‘the data needs to be taken with extreme caution’, but this advice has not been taken by the writers of such headlines as ‘Almost everyone in Ireland will be overweight by 2030‘.
Before we get too carried away by the hoo-hah, it’s worth reflecting on the track record of obesity predictions – a record which is, to put it mildly, sub-optimal. In 2006, a Department of Health report predicted that 28 per cent of women and 33 per cent of men would be obese by 2010. Although a prediction for just four years in advance sounds a modest task, 2010 came and went with obesity rates of 26 per cent for both sexes.
In 2007, the well-regarded Foresight report predicted that ‘by 2015, 36% of males and 28% of females will be obese’. Figures for 2015 have not yet been published but the most recent data for England show rates of 26 per cent and 24 per cent respectively.
Undeterred by these failed efforts at clairvoyance, The Lancet published a report in 2011 which predicted that nearly half of all British men and 43 per cent of British women would be obese by 2030. It would take an extraordinary surge in prevalence for this to come to pass.