Quarter of adults in England are obese, new survey of public health shows: statistical press release

The report also found that around half of adults (49%) drank alcohol at least once a week, and about one in eight (12%) were current cigarette smokers.  

Published by NHS Digital, the Health Survey for England, 2021 reports on the nation’s health and surveyed 5,880 adults about a variety of topics including cigarette smoking, e-cigarette use and alcohol consumption.1  

For most of 2021, interviews were carried out by telephone, rather than in person because of COVID-19 pandemic precautions. As a result of these changes in data collection, findings from 2021 are not directly comparable with those from previous years. 


Figures for 2021 show that 26% of adults in England were obese2 – with obesity increasing with age from 8% of adults aged 16-24 to 32% of those aged 65-74. 

Obesity prevalence2 was lowest among adults living in the least deprived areas (20%) and highest in the most deprived areas (34%). 

11% of adults who were obese reported that they had received a diagnosis of diabetes from a doctor, compared with 5% of overweight2 adults and 3% of those who were neither overweight nor obese.   

A higher proportion of men were either overweight or obese (69%) compared with women (59%). 


12% of adults were current cigarette smokers. Two-thirds of adults (66%) had never regularly smoked. More men (13%) than women (10%) reported that they currently smoked. 

5% of all adults were defined as current e-cigarette3 users. 

16% of current smokers also currently used e-cigarettes as did 13% of ex-regular smokers, but only 1% of those who had never smoked cigarettes. 

Drinking alcohol: 

79% of participants reported that they had drunk alcohol in the last 12 months, and

49% reported that they drank alcohol at least once a week. A higher proportion of men than women drank alcohol. 

Men were more likely than women to drink at increasing or higher risk levels4; 28% of men and 15% of women usually drank more than 14 units of alcohol a week. 

The Health Survey for England is commissioned by NHS Digital and carried out by the National Centre for Social Research in conjunction with UCL, which co-authors the report. 


Read the full report 

Health Survey for England, 2021

  1. The Health Survey for England series provides information about adults aged 16 and over, and children aged 0 to 15, living in private households in England. It estimates the proportion of people in England who have health conditions and the prevalence of risk factors and behaviours associated with certain health conditions and how prevalence varies within the population. The surveys provide regular information that cannot be obtained from other sources. A total of 5,880 adults (aged 16 and over) and 1,240 children were interviewed in the 2021 survey. Findings about children are not included because of low sample numbers within different age groups. The sample is designed to represent the whole population as accurately as possible within practical constraints, such as time and cost. Consequently, statistics based on the survey are estimates, rather than precise figures, and are subject to a margin of error. The sample who take part in the survey is weighted to provide statistics that are representative of the population. For further details see the methods report.
  2. This has been measured using Body Mass Index (BMI) defined as weight in kilograms divided by the height in metres squared (kg/m2). This allows for differences in weight due to height. In the HSE series a BMI of 30kg/m2 or more is classified as obese and a BMI of 25kg/m2 as overweight or obese.  Due to most of the 2021 survey’s interviews taking place on the telephone, it was not possible to directly measure participants’ height. Instead, participants were asked about their height and weight during the telephone interview. In previous years, participants were measured by interviewers. The estimates of overweight and obesity were produced by applying adjustments to these self-reported values of height and weight in order to more accurately predict measured height and weight. Studies have shown that adults tend to overestimate height and underestimate weight compared with measured values. Further details are in the Health Survey for England, 2021 and in Health Survey for England predicting height, weight and body mass index from self-reported data.
  3. The publication uses the term e-cigarette to refer to e-cigarettes and vaping devices.
  4. One unit of alcohol is 10ml by volume of pure alcohol. Measures of usual weekly consumption are presented in line with the current guidelines for sensible drinking
  • Lower risk (up to 14 units for men and women)
  • Increasing risk (above 14 and up to 50 units for men, above 14 and up to 35 units for women)
  • Higher risk (above 50 units a week for men, above 35 units for women).