• The so-called ‘red wall’ areas that switched from Labour to Conservative in the 2019 general election are some of the most deprived areas in the country with the worst health outcomes.
  • Residents in former ‘red wall’ areas tend to live closer on average to fast food outlets (1.8km compared to 2.7km) and off licences (3.3km compared to 5.5km) compared to traditional Conservative seats. They also tend to have higher rates of childhood obesity and have seen a 2.0% increase in childhood obesity for year 6 children between 2010/11 and 2017/18, compared to a 0.5% increase in Conservative-hold seats in the same time period.
  • To make the progress that is so urgently needed, government needs to focus on population-level interventions targeted at the circumstances in which people live and which acknowledge poverty and inequality as root causes of obesity.

There are multiple causes of obesity, and people’s exposure to them are not the same across the country. Much media attention has been given to so-called ‘red wall’ areas that which switched from Labour to Conservative in the 2019 general election – these are some of the most deprived areas in the country with the worst health outcomes. 

These areas illustrate the association between food environments (such as the density and proximity of unhealthy food outlets) and obesity. The above charts show that these areas tend to have higher rates of childhood obesity and have seen a 2.0% increase in childhood obesity in year 6 children between 2010/11 and 2017/18, compared to 0.5% in Conservative-held seats in the same time period.

Residents in former red wall areas tend to live closer on average to fast food outlets (1.8km compared to 2.7km) and off licences (3.3km compared to 5.5km) compared to traditional Conservative-held seats, and the areas generally have more fast food outlets (114 per 100,000 people, compared to 77).

Addressing the root causes of obesity

Successive governments have proposed and implemented obesity strategies, yet rates of obesity among adults and children have continued to rise.

There are worrying signs that this government will continue its previous approach and pursue isolated policies such as dieting advice and encouraging people to exercise more that, on their own, will do little to tackle obesity. This is largely because these strategies focus on interventions that overly stress individual responsibility while ignoring the evidence that our health – including obesity – is strongly influenced by the circumstances in which we live. This includes factors ranging from our income and housing, to our access to green space and exposure to the advertising and sale of unhealthy food. These factors shape whether we can be active or eat healthily.

Government needs to focus on population-level interventions targeted at the circumstances in which people live and which acknowledge poverty and inequality as root causes of obesity – otherwise we will fail to make the progress that is so urgently needed.

Further reading

Infographic

Our food and our health

Infographic

Infographic looking at how our health is influenced by the food we eat.

Press release

The government's strategy is likely to be a missed opportunity to address the root causes of obesity

27 July 2020
Press release

The Health Foundation response to the government's new obesity strategy.

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