Your web browser is outdated and may be insecure

The RCN recommends using an updated browser such as Microsoft Edge or Google Chrome

feet on weighing scales


Management of weight is an integral part of almost all areas of nursing and midwifery practice. Obesity is a major issue for the UK and nursing and midwifery staff provide a key role in identifying those at risk from weight gain.

Nurses play a vital role in offering advice and support to help people achieve a healthy weight and adopt a healthy lifestyle. It is also essential for nursing staff themselves to be a healthy weight. This resource has been designed to support nursing staff support their patients and clients as well as in their own health.

Obesity is a growing concern across the UK. In 2007 the Foresight report, Tackling obesities concluded that half the UK population could be obese by 2050. In 2014 the National Obesity Forum stated that these estimates could in fact be optimistic. It is difficult to assess the specific effect of obesity on mortality and morbidity however, we do know that it is a contributory risk factor to general morbidity and premature death

Definition of obesity

The World Health Organization's definition of obesity is a Body Mass Index (BMI) greater than or equal to 30.

The BMI is the most used measure for adults in the UK. It is the same for both sexes and across all ages and as such provides the most useful population-level indicator of overweight (BMI of 25 or above) and obesity. However, it should only be used as a guide and does not account for muscle mass or for fat distribution which varies between individuals. In children and adolescents the British 1990 growth reference charts are used to classify the weight status of children according to their age and sex because the BMI will vary depending on these factors.

NHS choices provide a useful tool for measuring obesity.

Health problems associated with morbid obesity may include: 

  • hypertension
  • heart disease
  • raised cholesterol levels
  • type 2 diabetes
  • respiratory problems
  • gastroesophageal reflux
  • urinary stress incontinence
  • degenerative arthritis
  • cancer
  • skin infections
  • sleep disturbance
  • infertility.

There are also serious psychological and social repercussions from being overweight or obese. 

From April 2013 local responsibility for the prevention and management of obesity in England transferred to local authorities.

Nursing you

Nursing You has been developed as part of the Healthy Weight Initiative for Nurses (WIN) and is designed to help nurses make healthy choices at work and maintain a healthy weight. 

Royal Society for Public Health: In conversation with...

This first podcast, part of a mini-series, focuses on obesity, and features the RSPH Chief Executive, Shirley Cramer CBE, and NHS commentator, writer and broadcaster Roy Lilley.
Weigh to go

Weigh to go - weight management

The RCN has been working with members on a series of case studies which help showcase the variety of ways nurses are currently working to improve public health.

This case study looks at Weigh To Go - a weight management programme for 12 to 18 year olds.

Useful resources


The Department of Health and Social Care has set out the actions it will take to tackle obesity and help adults and children to live healthier lives, in a new strategy: see: Tackling obesity: government strategy (2020).

Public Health England (PHE) provides information on data, evaluation, evidence and research related to weight status and its determinants. Including information on the National Child Measurement Programme NCMP.


Public Health Scotland. Diet and healthy weight - obesity


Public Health Wales. Overweight and obesity

Northern Ireland

Get a life, get active. Advice on how to get more activity into daily life, to help improve health. See also: the obesity prevention strategy for NI ‘A Fitter Future for All'

Public health NICE guidance

RCN resources

See: Nutrition and hydration clinical topic page.

See: Supporting behaviour change clinical topic page.

Nursing You has been developed as part of the Healthy Weight Initiative for Nurses (WIN) and is designed to help nurses make healthy choices at work and maintain a healthy weight.

Other resources

Page last updated - 08/07/2023