account, the workshop provided an opportunity to learn from these efforts and consider how they might be applied in different contexts.


To understand the current prevalence of obesity and project trends, epidemiologists Klim McPherson (UK National Heart Forum) and Cynthia Ogden (US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC]) presented data on obesity among children and adults in the two countries:

  • Both countries have seen the percentages of the population that are overweight or obese increase in the last two decades, with sharp rises projected if current trends continue.

  • United Kingdom averages are behind those of the United States by 7 to 10 years, but the prevalence of obesity in both countries is on the rise. In addition, the average body mass index (BMI) among the entire population is increasing in both.

  • Both countries have seen a possible leveling off in the growth of obesity rates among children in the last year or two, but more data are needed to confirm any longer-term improvement.

  • Disparities exist among children and adults in both countries. Examples were presented during the workshop not to compare or contrast, but to describe differences in the population. For instance, in the United Kingdom, data show some disparities in the prevalence of obesity by social class among women. In the United States, data show some disparities in children by ethnic group and education of the head of household.

  • Over the past several decades, levels of physical activity have remained low in both countries, as has consumption of vegetables, milk, and other healthy foods, while consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages and other, less healthy food has increased. This is the same time span during which the numbers of overweight and obese children and adults have risen dramatically.


As research points to the social, economic, and environmental determinants of obesity, recognition that the government must play a role is increasing. Yet this role also is subject to debate as many people, including policy makers, continue to perceive obesity as a matter of individual choices about food and physical activity. Throughout the workshop, presenters from both countries acknowledged the need to find the most appropriate and effective role for government. On the panel on this topic, Anne Jackson

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