With over half of us in the UK nowadays being classed as overweight or obese, it’s not surprising that so many of us turn to a whole host of solutions to shed those unwanted pounds. Whether it’s weight loss groups, fad diets, medication, surgery, or just good old exercise and a healthy balanced diet, losing weight is something that can be extremely difficult for many people, and not everything will work for everyone.
Weight Loss Statistics—Key Findings
- Over 70% of UK adults are uncomfortable with their weight.
- 16-24 year olds are the least insecure about their weight.
- Nearly twice as many women than men feel uncomfortable with their weight.
- In the last 12 months, the NHS has spent over £7.5 million prescribing weight loss medication.
- Since January 2021, there have been a total of 1.4 million Google searches for ‘how to lose weight fast’, that’s the equivalent of 3 searches per minute.
How Many People in the UK Want to Lose Weight?
68% of men and 60% of women in the UK struggle with obesity or being overweight, these numbers increasing across age groups up to 75 years of age.
And when it comes to children, nearly 20% of boys and over 10% of girls in the UK struggle with obesity or being overweight. So how many of us are looking to shed the unwanted pounds?
In November 2021, we used Censuswide to run a survey of 2,000 UK adults with the intention of finding out just how many of us struggle with our weight. We asked:
How often, if at all, have you felt uncomfortable about your weight?
- Prefer not to say
It seems that the majority of us seem to struggle with our weight at some point in our lives. The results showed that:
- Over 70% of us are either always, sometimes or occasionally uncomfortable with our weights.
- 16.63% of us said we always feel uncomfortable about our weight.
- Nearly 30% of us said we sometimes feel uncomfortable about our weight.
- 26.72% of us said we occasionally feel uncomfortable about our weight.
- 21.13% of us said we never feel uncomfortable about our weight.
Do Different Genders Struggle with Their Weight Differently?
There are no shortage of reasons why so many of us struggle with our weight, whether because of our health, images and portrayals in the media, comparing ourselves to airbrushed celebrities, or outside comments made by friends and family. But do these things, along with slimming/diet culture and high beauty standards, affect women more than men? Or are the effects of these more evenly spread over the two sexes? This is what our research showed:
As you can see from the chart above:
- 78.22% of women say they feel uncomfortable about their weight some or all of the time.
- 64.68% of men have said they feel uncomfortable about their weight some or all of the time.
- Almost 30% (28.77%) of men said they never felt uncomfortable with their weight, as opposed to nearly half as many women (17.58%) giving this answer.
- Only 12.20% of men said they always felt uncomfortable with their weight, while almost twice as many women (21%) gave this answer.
Do We Feel More Insecure With Our Weight When We’re Younger?
With our metabolism slowing down as we age and social media more popular than ever with young people, does this change the way we view our bodies and our weight? We were curious as to whether age would affect the ways in which participants responded to our survey, so we asked contributors to specify their age range when they gave their answers. These are our results:
- 16-24 year olds actually were the least insecure about their weight, with just over 64% answering either ‘always’, ‘sometimes’ or ‘occasionally.
- Although young people appear most comfortable with their weight overall compared to other age groups, 1 in 5 (21.59%) answered that they always feel uncomfortable with their weight, which was more than other age groups.
- Aside from the 16-24 age group, every other age range had a higher percentage of moderate answers, with 30% or almost 30% from every other age group answering that they ‘sometimes’ felt uncomfortable about their weight, while just over 20% of 16-24 year olds gave this answer.
- So while it seems that 16-24s are the least insecure about their weight, those in that age group who are uncomfortable with their weight seem to be affected by it very strongly.
- The age group most insecure about their weight appears to be the 45-54 year olds, 76.15% of whom say they are either always, sometimes or occasionally uncomfortable with their weight.
- The 55+ age range had the lowest percentage of participants to answer ‘always’, and the highest percentage of those that answered ‘never’. Given the similar percentages of those in the 55+ group who answered ‘sometimes’ (29.27%) and ‘occasionally’ (29.13%), it is safe to assume that as we age, our weight may still bother us, but not to the extremes or to the extent that it does when we are younger.
So it seems that both the youngest and the oldest groups of participants in the survey felt the most comfortable with their weights.
What does Google Say?
If we go to the Google search engine and type in ‘how to lose weight’, these are the search predictions that appear:
Out of ten predictive search suggestions, five of them are about losing weight quickly. The remaining five results include losing weight in specific areas, and losing weight without exercise.
- According to Keyword Finder, there were 110,000 UK searches for ‘how to lose weight fast’ in October 2021, and a total of 1,420,000 searches since January of 2021.
- The search term ‘how to lose weight naturally’ had an average search number of 1,400 per month, with the term having skyrocketed in May 2020 to 2,900 searches, but only around 1,000 searches in October 2021.
When Do We Want To Lose Weight the Most?
If we look at the Google trends graph for search terms about losing weight, we can see that there is a regular spike around December/January every year, with the searches going right down in popularity just before this as people become less interested in losing weight as the year progresses. But regardless of how low the searches go, it seems almost guaranteed that we’ll be freshly determined to lose weight once again at the start of each year.
The only year that doesn’t show this exact pattern is 2020, when searches for ‘how to lose weight’ spiked again in March 2020, presumably in time for the national lockdown when people stayed home and either didn’t have work or worked from home, meaning they most likely had more time to exercise or to focus on their fitness and weight management.
UK Google searches for ‘how to lose weight’ from Nov 2016 to Nov 2021. Source: Google Trends
According to Keyword Finder, we searched for weight loss-related terms quite a bit more than usual in the months just after the lockdown of 2020. Since the lockdown began at the very end of March 2020, it’s understandable that many of us would be trying to lose weight that April and May. We found that:
- ‘How to lose weight fast’ is the most popular search term in the UK in regards to losing weight*, with an average of 136,000 monthly searches. The term spiked from 74,000 searches in March 2020, to a huge 110,000 searches in April 2020, and again to 135,000 searches in May. That’s an overall increase of 82%!
- Searches for ‘how to lose belly fat’ went up a massive 123% from March to May of 2020, from 33,100 searches all the way to 74,000. This was also the second most popular search overall, with an average of 45,400 searches every month.
- Searches for ‘best exercises to lose weight’ seem to spike each January, as is expected from New Year, jumping 123% from December 2019 to January 2020, and 83% from December 2020 to January 2021. During the lockdown of 2020, the term rose a massive 124% between March and May, from 9,900 to 22,200.
*this is out of the search terms we analysed, which include: ‘how to lose weight fast’, ‘how to lose belly fat’, how to lose weight’, ‘best exercises to lose weight’, and several more related search terms.
Diets for Weight Loss
Google searches for ‘diet plan’ seem to have a similar pattern to ‘how to lose weight’, in that they spike up significantly each January, presumably when everyone decides to go on a new diet at New Years. Though it’s clear that in the last year, even the upsurge of searches in January was lower than previous years.
Diets like the keto diet, the juice diet, the 7-day detox diet and the military diet can be tempting as a ‘quick-fix’ solution, especially if there is a specific goal such as losing weight for a certain event or in a certain amount of time. Medical professionals usually don’t recommend such restrictive diets for the long-term though, so this is something to keep in mind.
UK Google searches for ‘diet plan’ from Nov 2016 to Nov 2021. Source: Google Trends
Judging not only from the Google Trends graph, but from the data found on Keyword Finder, we can see that diet plans seem to be losing some of their popularity as of late.
- The keto diet appears to be the most popular diet, with 34,200 average monthly searches worldwide.
- During the first national lockdown of 2020, searches for ‘keto diet plan’ shot up 122%, from 22,200 in March to nearly 50,000 in May.
- And in true New Year’s fashion, searches for ‘keto diet plan’ went up once again in January 2021, this time to 74,000.
- The search term ‘diet plan for weight loss’, has an average of 16,300 monthly searches, making it clear that for many of us, the primary use for diets appears to be weight loss rather than general physical health.
- The Cambridge diet is another of the most popular diets searched for by us Brits, with an average of 31,800 searches per month. This is a very low-calorie diet designed for a rapid and drastic weight loss. It is also known as the 1:1 diet in the UK, and can be very dangerous due to how low calorie it is. It is only recommended under medical supervision.
What is the most popular diet in the UK?
We decided to take a look at some diets popular with Brits, and see how many of us have been searching for them. Using Keyword Finder, we found out what diets are searched for most often. Here is what we found:
|Diet||Average Monthly Searches (last 12 months)|
As we can see from the table:
- Slimming World is by far the most searched for term—the brand offers not only a diet plan, but a range of cookbooks, products like meal planners or tupperware, group support, an app, and even ready meals sold at certain supermarkets. Because of this though, we can’t know for sure that everyone searching for Slimming World was doing so specifically for the diet plans.
- The Keto diet is the most popular search specifically for a diet, with 188,000 searches on average every month. The diet seems to have begun its rise in popularity around 2017, and it reached the height of its monthly searches in the UK in 2019.
- The second popular search result that mentions a specific diet is the Mediterranean diet, which draws on the cuisines of Greece, Italy and Spain, and seems to be rich in fruit, vegetables and fish. This diet had 45,000 searches per month, on average.
- People are also very interested in intermittent fasting diets, which don’t necessarily specify the foods dieters are allowed to eat, but refer to various meal timing schedules that cycle between fasting and non-fasting over a given period. Nearly 100,000 of us are searching for this way of dieting every month.
Weight Loss Medication Statistics in England
When it comes to medication for weight loss, there are a few different options available both over the counter and on prescription to the English public, such as Orlistat (also known by brand names Xenical and Alli), Saxenda, and Mysimba.
Because Orlistat is by far the most popular medication prescribed to those of us with a BMI over 28 who are trying to lose weight, and since 2010 it is the only drug available in the UK that is recommended specifically for the management of obesity, we used OpenPrescribing.net to analyse the NHS prescription data for it, to see in which areas it was being prescribed the most and how much the NHS tends to spend on it.
Data obtained from Open Prescribing
Looking at the stats for Orlistat in September 2021, we can see that:
- The region in England that prescribed the most items was the Midlands, prescribing Orlistat to its patients 5,559 times.
- The South West region, meanwhile, prescribed Orlistat the least to its patients, with only 2,112 items prescribed in September 2021.
- There is quite the jump between the three Southern and Eastern regions, and the four Northern, Midlands and London regions, which all appear to have many more prescriptions.
- Across all regional teams in NHS England, a total of 317,667 Orlistat items were prescribed to people in the last 12 months (Oct 2020 – Sep 2021).
- Across all CCGs in NHS England, a total of 169,157 Orlistat items were prescribed to people in the financial year (April – Sep 2021) .
There has been a long-term downward trend in prescription of Orlistat over the last years, with 371 thousand items prescribed in 2018, 355 thousand items prescribed in 2019, and 294 thousand items prescribed in 2020. These figures are based on the calendar year, of which there is no data for 2021 just yet.
We also used Open Prescribing to see how much money is spent by each region every year on treating patients with Orlistat.
Since Orlistat is a prescription-only medication that is only used to help people lose weight, we can be sure that there won’t be any other reasons the drug could be being prescribed to patients. Not to mention Orlistat is only used for patients with a BMI of 28 or over, and is used with an individualized low-calorie, low-fat diet and exercise program to help patients to lose weight.
In other words, Orlistat isn’t just for those of us looking to shed a couple of pounds after a Christmas of eating a bit too much chocolate—it’s for folk who are really struggling with beng overweight or obese, and are finding it near-impossible to lose the weight on their own, whether this is due to comorbid health issues that can rear their heads when we put on too much weight, such as:
- Heart disease
- Sleep apnea and breathing problems
- Gallbladder disease
- High cholesterol (dyslipidemia)
Or due to the reason for the weight gain in the first place, whether this is genetics or a condition such as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), Cushing syndrome or an underactive thyroid.
Data obtained from Open Prescribing
In this graph, we can see the amount of money that is spent on Orlistat by the NHS by each region in England. Unsurprisingly it is similar to the last graph, but there are a few differences:
- The Midlands is still the region at the top of the list, spending the most on Orlistat with a huge cost of £119,991.91 in September 2021 alone.
- This time, London is the region that is the second-most expensive when it comes to prescriptions of Orlistat, spending £114,325.84 on its patients in September 2021.
- The regions spending the least amount are the same three that prescribe the least, meaning the South West and South East regions as well as the East of England.
- In September of 2021 alone, the NHS spent a total of £615,674 on prescribing Orlistat to its patients. In the last 12 months from October 2020 to September 2021, the NHS spent £7,697,898 on Orlistat.
If you’re worried about your weight and feel that Orlistat is right for you, we have both Orlistat and the branded Xenical available on our dedicated Weight Loss Medication page. As these are prescription-only medications you will need to either upload your own prescription, or we can charge a fee to ask a doctor for a prescription for you if you provide us with some personal details. If you have any queries or concerns, please contact us.