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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.

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.



Northern Ireland

Public health NICE guidance

RCN resources

Other resources

Page last updated - 13/06/2024