Obesity: Guidance on the prevention of overweight and obesity in adults and children

NICE guidelines [CG43] Published date:

1 Guidance

The following guidance is based on the best available evidence. The full guideline gives details of the methods and the evidence used to develop the guidance (see section 5 for details).

In the recommendations, 'children' refers to anyone younger than 18 years. 'Young people' is used when referring to teenagers at the older end of this age group.

Staff who advise people on diet, weight and activity – both inside and outside the NHS – need appropriate training, experience and enthusiasm to motivate people to change. Some will need general training (for example, in health promotion), while those who provide interventions for obesity (such as dietary treatment and physical training) will need more specialised training. In the recommendations, the term 'specific' is used if the training will be in addition to staff's basic training. The term 'relevant' is used for training that could be part of basic professional training or in addition to it.

1.1 Public health recommendations

The public health recommendations are divided according to their key audiences and the settings they apply to:

  • the public

  • the NHS

  • local authorities and partners in the community

  • early years settings

  • schools

  • workplaces

  • self-help, commercial and community programmes.

Some of the recommendations are at a strategic level (primarily for those involved in planning and management of service provision and policies), and others are at delivery level (for individual staff, teams and team managers).

Section 3 has information about the status of NICE guidance in different settings, and links to tools to help with implementing the recommendations and meeting training needs. In many cases, implementation will involve organisations working in partnership.

1.1.1 Recommendations for the public

Although body weight and weight gain are influenced by many factors, including people's genetic makeup and the environment in which they live, the individual decisions people make also affect whether they maintain a healthy weight.

A person needs to be in 'energy balance' to maintain a healthy weight – that is, their energy intake (from food) should not exceed the energy expended through everyday activities and exercise.

People tend to gain weight gradually, and may not notice this happening. Many people accept weight gain with age as inevitable but the main cause is gradual changes in their everyday lives, such as a tendency to being less active, or small changes to diet. People also often gain weight during particular stages of their life, such as during and after pregnancy, the menopause or while stopping smoking.

Small, sustained improvements to daily habits help people maintain a healthy weight and have wider health benefits – such as reducing the risk of coronary heart disease, type 2 diabetes and some cancers. But making changes can be difficult and is often hindered by conflicting advice on what changes to make.

Recommendations for all

1.1.1.1 Everyone should aim to maintain or achieve a healthy weight, to improve their health and reduce the risk of diseases associated with overweight and obesity, such as coronary heart disease, type 2 diabetes, osteoarthritis and some cancers.

1.1.1.2 People should follow the strategies listed in box 1, which may make it easier to maintain a healthy weight by balancing 'calories in' (from food and drink) and 'calories out' (from being physically active). Sources of advice and information are listed in appendix D.

Box 1 Strategies to help people achieve and maintain a healthy weight

Diet

  • Base meals on starchy foods such as potatoes, bread, rice and pasta, choosing wholegrain where possible.

  • Eat plenty of fibre-rich foods – such as oats, beans, peas, lentils, grains, seeds, fruit and vegetables, as well as wholegrain bread, and brown rice and pasta.

  • Eat at least five portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables each day, in place of foods higher in fat and calories.

  • Eat a low-fat diet and avoid increasing your fat and/or calorie intake.

  • Eat as little as possible of:

    • fried foods

    • drinks and confectionery high in added sugars

    • other food and drinks high in fat and sugar, such as some take-away and fast foods.

  • Eat breakfast.

  • Watch the portion size of meals and snacks, and how often you are eating.

  • For adults, minimise the calories you take in from alcohol.

Activity

  • Make enjoyable activities – such as walking, cycling, swimming, aerobics and gardening – part of everyday life.

  • Minimise sedentary activities, such as sitting for long periods watching television, at a computer or playing video games.

  • Build activity into the working day – for example, take the stairs instead of the lift, take a walk at lunchtime.

1.1.1.3 All adults should be encouraged to periodically check their weight, waist measurement or a simple alternative, such as the fit of their clothes.

1.1.1.4 People who have any queries or concerns about their – or their family's – diet, activity levels or weight should discuss these with a health professional such as a nurse, GP, pharmacist, health visitor or school nurse. They could also consult reliable sources of information, such as those listed in appendix D.

Recommendation for adults who wish to lose weight

The following recommendation applies to adults only. Children and young people concerned about their weight should speak to a nurse or their GP.

1.1.1.5 Weight loss programmes (including commercial or self-help groups, slimming books or websites) are recommended only if they:

  • are based on a balanced healthy diet

  • encourage regular physical activity

  • expect people to lose no more than 0.5–1 kg (1–2 lb) a week.

    Programmes that do not meet these criteria are unlikely to help people maintain a healthy weight in the long term.

    People with certain medical conditions – such as type 2 diabetes, heart failure or uncontrolled hypertension or angina – should check with their general practice or hospital specialist before starting a weight loss programme.

Recommendations for parents and carers

1.1.1.6 In addition to the recommendations in box 1, parents and carers should consider following the advice in box to help children establish healthy behaviours and maintain or work towards a healthy weight. These strategies may have other benefits – for example, monitoring the amount of time children spend watching television may help reduce their exposure to inappropriate programmes or advertisements.

Box 2 Helping children and young people maintain or work towards a healthy weight

Diet

  • Children and young adults should eat regular meals, including breakfast, in a pleasant, sociable environment without distractions (such as watching television).

  • Parents and carers should eat with children – with all family members eating the same foods.

Activity

  • Encourage active play – for example, dancing and skipping.

  • Try to be more active as a family – for example, walking and cycling to school and shops, going to the park or swimming.

  • Gradually reduce sedentary activities – such as watching television or playing video games – and consider active alternatives such as dance, football or walking.

  • Encourage children to participate in sport or other active recreation, and make the most of opportunities for exercise at school.

1.1.2 The NHS

The following recommendations are made specifically for health professionals and managers in the NHS, but may also be relevant to health professionals in other organisations. Recommendations in other sections may also be relevant for NHS health professionals working with local authorities and other organisations.

These recommendations are for:

  • senior managers, GPs, commissioners of care and directors of public health

  • staff in primary and secondary care, particularly those providing interventions, including public health practitioners, nurses, behavioural psychologists, physiotherapists, GPs, pharmacists, trained counsellors, registered dietitians, public health nutritionists and specifically trained exercise specialists.

With specific training, staff such as pharmacy assistants or support staff in general practices may also be able to give advice and support.

Implementing these recommendations will contribute to the English target to halt the annual rise in obesity in children younger than 11 years by 2010, and similar initiatives in Wales. Recommendations can be delivered through local strategic partnerships and other local agreements and partnerships.

Section 3 has links to tools to help with implementing the recommendations and meeting training needs. In many cases, implementation will involve organisations working together in partnership.

Primary care staff should engage with target communities, consult on how and where to deliver interventions and form key partnerships and ensure that interventions are person centred.

Tailoring advice to address potential barriers (such as cost, personal tastes, availability, time, views of family and community members) is particularly important for people from black and minority ethnic groups, people in vulnerable groups (such as those on low incomes) and people at life stages with increased risk for weight gain (such as during and after pregnancy, menopause or smoking cessation). Many of the recommendations below also highlight the need to provide ongoing support – this can be in person, or by phone, mail or internet as appropriate.

Overarching recommendation

1.1.2.1 Managers and health professionals in all primary care settings should ensure that preventing and managing obesity is a priority at both strategic and delivery levels. Dedicated resources should be allocated for action.

Strategy: for senior managers and budget holders

1.1.2.2 In their role as employers, NHS organisations should set an example in developing public health policies to prevent and manage obesity by following existing guidance and (in England) the local obesity strategy. In particular:

  • on-site catering should promote healthy food and drink choices (for example by signs, posters, pricing and positioning of products)

  • there should be policies, facilities and information that promote physical activity, for example, through travel plans, by providing showers and secure cycle parking and by using signposting and improved décor to encourage stair use.

1.1.2.3 All primary care settings should ensure that systems are in place to implement the local obesity strategy. This should enable health professionals with specific training, including public health practitioners working singly and as part of multidisciplinary teams, to provide interventions to prevent and manage obesity.

1.1.2.4 All primary care settings should:

  • address the training needs of staff involved in preventing and managing obesity

  • allocate adequate time and space for staff to take action

  • enhance opportunities for health professionals to engage with a range of organisations and to develop multidisciplinary teams.

1.1.2.5 Local health agencies should identify appropriate health professionals and ensure that they receive training in:

  • the health benefits and the potential effectiveness of interventions to prevent obesity, increase activity levels and improve diet (and reduce energy intake)

  • the best practice approaches in delivering such interventions, including tailoring support to meet people's needs over the long term

  • the use of motivational and counselling techniques.

    Training will need to address barriers to health professionals providing support and advice, particularly concerns about the effectiveness of interventions, people's receptiveness and ability to change and the impact of advice on relationships with patients.

Delivery: for all health professionals

1.1.2.6 Interventions to increase physical activity should focus on activities that fit easily into people's everyday life (such as walking), should be tailored to people's individual preferences and circumstances and should aim to improve people's belief in their ability to change (for example, by verbal persuasion, modelling exercise behaviour and discussing positive effects). Ongoing support (including appropriate written materials) should be given in person or by phone, mail or internet.

1.1.2.7 Interventions to improve diet (and reduce energy intake) should be multicomponent (for example, including dietary modification, targeted advice, family involvement and goal setting), be tailored to the individual and provide ongoing support.

1.1.2.8 Interventions may include promotional, awareness-raising activities, but these should be part of a long-term, multicomponent intervention rather than one-off activities (and should be accompanied by targeted follow-up with different population groups).

1.1.2.9 Health professionals should discuss weight, diet and activity with people at times when weight gain is more likely, such as during and after pregnancy, the menopause and while stopping smoking.

1.1.2.10 All actions aimed at preventing excess weight gain and improving diet (including reducing energy intake) and activity levels in children and young people should actively involve parents and carers.

Delivery: for health professionals in primary care

1.1.2.11 All interventions to support smoking cessation should:

  • ensure people are given information on services that provide advice on prevention and management of obesity if appropriate

  • give people who are concerned about their weight general advice on long-term weight management, in particular encouraging increased physical activity.

Delivery: for health professionals in broader community settings

The recommendations in this section are for health professionals working in broader community settings, including healthy living centres and Sure Start programmes.

1.1.2.12 All community programmes to prevent obesity, increase activity levels and improve diet (including reducing energy intake) should address the concerns of local people from the outset. Concerns might include the availability of services and the cost of changing behaviour, the expectation that healthier foods do not taste as good, dangers associated with walking and cycling and confusion over mixed messages in the media about weight, diet and activity.

1.1.2.13 Health professionals should work with shops, supermarkets, restaurants, cafes and voluntary community services to promote healthy eating choices that are consistent with existing good practice guidance and to provide supporting information.

1.1.2.14 Health professionals should support and promote community schemes and facilities that improve access to physical activity, such as walking or cycling routes, combined with tailored information, based on an audit of local needs.

1.1.2.15 Health professionals should support and promote behavioural change programmes along with tailored advice to help people who are motivated to change become more active, for example by walking or cycling instead of driving or taking the bus.

1.1.2.16 Families of children and young people identified as being at high risk of obesity – such as children with at least one obese parent – should be offered ongoing support from an appropriately trained health professional. Individual as well as family-based interventions should be considered, depending on the age and maturity of the child.

Delivery: for health professionals working with preschool, childcare and family settings

1.1.2.17 Any programme to prevent obesity in preschool, childcare or family settings should incorporate a range of components (rather than focusing on parental education alone), such as:

  • diet – interactive cookery demonstrations, videos and group discussions on practical issues such as meal planning and shopping for food and drink

  • physical activity – interactive demonstrations, videos and group discussions on practical issues such as ideas for activities, opportunities for active play, safety and local facilities.

1.1.2.18 Family programmes to prevent obesity, improve diet (and reduce energy intake) and/or increase physical activity levels should provide ongoing, tailored support and incorporate a range of behaviour change techniques (see section 1.2.4). Programmes should have a clear aim to improve weight management.

Delivery: for health professionals working with workplaces

1.1.2.19 Health professionals such as occupational health staff and public health practitioners should establish partnerships with local businesses and support the implementation of workplace programmes to prevent and manage obesity.

1.1.3 Local authorities and partners in the community

The environment in which people live may influence their ability to maintain a healthy weight – this includes access to safe spaces to be active and to an affordable, healthy diet. Planning decisions may therefore have an impact on the health of the local population. Fundamental concerns about safety, transport links and services need to be addressed. Effective interventions often require multidisciplinary teams and the support of a broad range of organisations.

These recommendations apply to:

  • senior managers and budget holders in local authorities and community partnerships, who manage, plan and commission services such as transport, sports and leisure and open spaces (not just those with an explicit public health role)

  • staff providing specific community-based interventions.

Implementation of these recommendations is likely to contribute to local area agreements and other local agreements and targets. The need to work in partnership should be reflected in the integrated regional strategies and reviewed regularly.

Recommendations that refer to the planning of buildings, and stair use in particular, should be implemented in the context of existing building regulations and policies, particularly in relation to access for disabled people.

Section 3 has links to tools to help with implementing the recommendations, meeting training needs, evaluating the impact of action and working in partnership with other organisations.

Overarching recommendation

1.1.3.1 As part of their roles in regulation, enforcement and promoting wellbeing, local authorities, primary care trusts (PCTs) or local health boards and local strategic partnerships should ensure that preventing and managing obesity is a priority for action – at both strategic and delivery levels – through community interventions, policies and objectives. Dedicated resources should be allocated for action.

Strategy: for senior managers and budget holders

1.1.3.2 Local authorities should set an example in developing policies to prevent obesity in their role as employers, by following existing guidance and (in England) the local obesity strategy.

  • On-site catering should promote healthy food and drink choices (for example by signs, posters, pricing and positioning of products).

  • Physical activity should be promoted, for example through travel plans, by providing showers and secure cycle parking and using signposting and improved décor to encourage stair use.

1.1.3.3 Local authorities (including planning, transport and leisure services) should engage with the local community, to identify environmental barriers to physical activity and healthy eating. This should involve:

  • an audit, with the full range of partners including PCTs or local health boards, residents, businesses and institutions

  • assessing (ideally by doing a health impact assessment) the effect of their policies on the ability of their communities to be physically active and eat a healthy diet; the needs of subgroups should be considered because barriers may vary by, for example, age, gender, social status, ethnicity, religion and whether an individual has a disability.

    Barriers identified in this way should be addressed.

1.1.3.4 Local authorities should work with local partners, such as industry and voluntary organisations, to create and manage more safe spaces for incidental and planned physical activity, addressing as a priority any concerns about safety, crime and inclusion, by:

  • providing facilities such as cycling and walking routes, cycle parking, area maps and safe play areas

  • making streets cleaner and safer, through measures such as traffic calming, congestion charging, pedestrian crossings, cycle routes, lighting and walking schemes

  • ensuring buildings and spaces are designed to encourage people to be more physically active (for example, through positioning and signing of stairs, entrances and walkways)

  • considering in particular people who require tailored information and support, especially inactive, vulnerable groups.

1.1.3.5 Local authorities should facilitate links between health professionals and other organisations to ensure that local public policies improve access to healthy foods and opportunities for physical activity.

Delivery: specific interventions

1.1.3.6 Local authorities and transport authorities should provide tailored advice such as personalised travel plans to increase active travel among people who are motivated to change.

1.1.3.7 Local authorities, through local strategic partnerships, should encourage all local shops, supermarkets and caterers to promote healthy food and drink, for example by signs, posters, pricing and positioning of products, in line with existing guidance and (in England) with the local obesity strategy.

1.1.3.8 All community programmes to prevent obesity, increase activity levels and improve diet (and reduce energy intake) should address the concerns of local people. Concerns might include the availability of services and the cost of changing behaviour, the expectation that healthier foods do not taste as good, dangers associated with walking and cycling and confusion over mixed messages in the media about weight, diet and activity.

1.1.3.9 Community-based interventions should include awareness-raising promotional activities, but these should be part of a longer-term, multicomponent intervention rather than one-off activities.

1.1.4 Early years settings

The preschool years (ages 2–5) are a key time for shaping lifelong attitudes and behaviours, and childcare providers can create opportunities for children to be active and develop healthy eating habits, and can act as positive role models.

These recommendations apply to:

  • directors of children's services

  • children and young people's strategic partnerships

  • staff, including senior management, in childcare and other early years settings

  • children's trusts, children's centres, Healthy Start and Sure Start teams

  • trainers working with childcare staff, including home-based childminders and nannies.

Implementing these recommendations will contribute to meeting the target to halt the annual rise in obesity in children younger than 11 years by 2010 and to implementing the England and Wales National Service Frameworks for children, young people and maternity services (the Children's NSFs for England and Wales), and 'Every child matters' and similar initiatives in Wales.

Section 3 has links to tools to help with implementing the recommendations and meeting training needs.

For all settings

1.1.4.1 All nurseries and childcare facilities should ensure that preventing excess weight gain and improving children's diet and activity levels are priorities.

1.1.4.2 All action aimed at preventing excess weight gain, improving diet (and reducing energy intake) and increasing activity levels in children should involve parents and carers.

1.1.4.3 Nurseries and other childcare facilities should:

  • minimise sedentary activities during play time, and provide regular opportunities for enjoyable active play and structured physical activity sessions

  • implement Department for Education and Skills, Food Standards Agency and Caroline Walker Trust[2] guidance on food procurement and healthy catering.

1.1.4.4 Staff should ensure that children eat regular, healthy meals in a pleasant, sociable environment free from other distractions (such as television). Children should be supervised at mealtimes and, if possible, staff should eat with children.

1.1.5 Schools

During their school years, people often develop life-long patterns of behaviour that affect their ability to keep a healthy weight. Schools play an important role in this by providing opportunities for children to be active and develop healthy eating habits, and by providing role models. Improving children's diet and activity levels may also have wider benefits: regular physical activity is associated with higher academic achievement, better health in childhood and later life, higher motivation at school and reduced anxiety and depression.

There is no evidence that school-based interventions to prevent obesity, improve diet and increase activity levels foster eating disorders or extreme dieting or exercise behaviour.

These recommendations apply to:

  • directors of children's services

  • staff, including senior management, in schools

  • school governors

  • health professionals working in or with schools

  • children and young people's strategic partnerships

  • children's trusts.

Implementing these recommendations will contribute to meeting the target to halt the annual rise in obesity in children younger than 11 years by 2010 and implementing the Children's NSFs for England and Wales, the National Healthy Schools Programme (and the Welsh Network of Healthy Schools Schemes), and 'Every child matters' and similar initiatives in Wales.

Section 3 has links to tools to help with implementing the recommendations and meeting training needs.

Recommendations that refer to the planning of buildings, and stair use in particular, should be implemented in the context of existing building regulations and policies, particularly in relation to access for disabled people.

Overarching recommendation

1.1.5.1 All schools should ensure that improving the diet and activity levels of children and young people is a priority for action to help prevent excess weight gain. A whole-school approach should be used to develop life-long healthy eating and physical activity practices.

Strategy: for head teachers and chairs of governors

1.1.5.2 Head teachers and chairs of governors, in collaboration with parents and pupils, should assess the whole school environment and ensure that the ethos of all school policies helps children and young people to maintain a healthy weight, eat a healthy diet and be physically active, in line with existing standards and guidance. This includes policies relating to building layout and recreational spaces, catering (including vending machines) and the food and drink children bring into school[3], the taught curriculum (including PE), school travel plans and provision for cycling, and policies relating to the National Healthy Schools Programme and extended schools.

1.1.5.3 Head teachers and chairs of governors should ensure that teaching, support and catering staff receive training on the importance of healthy-school policies and how to support their implementation.

1.1.5.4 Schools should establish links with relevant organisations and professionals, including health professionals and those involved in local strategies and partnerships to promote sports for children and young people.

1.1.5.5 Interventions should be sustained, multicomponent and address the whole school, including after-school clubs and other activities. Short-term interventions and one-off events are insufficient on their own and should be part of a long-term integrated programme.

Delivery: for teachers and other professionals

1.1.5.6 Staff delivering physical education, sport and physical activity should promote activities that children and young people find enjoyable and can take part in outside school, through into adulthood. Children's confidence and understanding of why they need to continue physical activity throughout life (physical literacy) should be developed as early as possible.

1.1.5.7 Children and young people should eat meals (including packed lunches) in school in a pleasant, sociable environment. Younger children should be supervised at mealtimes and, if possible, staff should eat with children.

1.1.5.8 Staff planning interventions should consider the views of children and young people, any differences in preferences between boys and girls, and potential barriers (such as cost or the expectation that healthier foods do not taste as good).

1.1.5.9 Where possible, parents should be involved in school-based interventions through, for example, special events, newsletters and information about lunch menus and after-school activities.

1.1.6 Workplaces

The workplace may have an impact on a person's ability to maintain a healthy weight both directly, by providing healthy eating choices and opportunities for physical activity (such as the option to use stairs instead of lifts, staff gym, cycle parking and changing and shower facilities), and indirectly, through the overall culture of the organisation (for example, through policies and incentive schemes). Taking action may result in significant benefit for employers as well as employees.

These recommendations apply to:

  • senior managers

  • health and safety managers

  • occupational health staff

  • unions and staff representatives

  • employers' organisations and chambers of commerce

  • health professionals working with businesses.

The recommendations are divided into:

  • those that all organisations may be able to achieve, with sufficient input and support from a range of staff, including senior management

  • those that are resource intensive and may only be fully achieved by large organisations with on-site occupational health staff, such as the NHS, public bodies and larger private organisations.

The recommendations are likely to build on existing initiatives – such as catering awards, Investors in People and Investors in Health, and the Corporate Health Standard in Wales.

Section 3 has links to tools to help with implementing the recommendations and meeting training needs.

Recommendations that refer to the planning of buildings, and stair use in particular, should be implemented in the context of existing building regulations and policies, particularly in relation to access for disabled people.

Overarching recommendation

1.1.6.1 All workplaces, particularly large organisations such as the NHS and local authorities, should address the prevention and management of obesity, because of the considerable impact on the health of the workforce and associated costs to industry. Workplaces are encouraged to collaborate with local strategic partnerships and to ensure that action is in line with the local obesity strategy (in England).

For all workplaces

1.1.6.2 Workplaces should provide opportunities for staff to eat a healthy diet and be more physically active, through:

  • active and continuous promotion of healthy choices in restaurants, hospitality, vending machines and shops for staff and clients, in line with existing Food Standards Agency guidance

  • working practices and policies, such as active travel policies for staff and visitors

  • a supportive physical environment, such as improvements to stairwells and providing showers and secure cycle parking

  • recreational opportunities, such as supporting out-of-hours social activities, lunchtime walks and use of local leisure facilities.

1.1.6.3 Incentive schemes (such as policies on travel expenses, the price of food and drinks sold in the workplace and contributions to gym membership) that are used in a workplace should be sustained and part of a wider programme to support staff in managing weight, improving diet and increasing activity levels.

For NHS, public organisations and large commercial organisations

1.1.6.4 Workplaces providing health checks for staff should ensure that they address weight, diet and activity, and provide ongoing support.

1.1.6.5 Action to improve food and drink provision in the workplace, including restaurants, hospitality and vending machines, should be supported by tailored educational and promotional programmes, such as a behavioural intervention or environmental changes (for example, food labelling or changes to availability).

For this to be effective, commitment from senior management, enthusiastic catering management, a strong occupational health lead, links to other on-site health initiatives, supportive pricing policies and heavy promotion and advertisement at point of purchase are likely to be needed.

1.1.7 Self-help, commercial and community programmes

This section has been replaced by Overweight and obese adults - lifestyle weight management (2014) NICE guideline PH53.

1.2 Clinical recommendations

This section has been replaced by Obesity: Identification, assessment and management of overweight and obesity in children, young people and adults (2014) NICE guideline CG189.

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