Use of data from the Health Survey for England in obesity policy making and monitoring


  • Funding: JM is funded by the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC) to work on the Health Survey for England (HSE) series; OO is funded by the London Deanery Public Health Training Programme. Both the HSCIC and the Department of Health (DH) fund the HSE. This study was unfunded; the HSE funders were not involved in the decision to undertake this work nor to publish it.

Address for correspondence: Dr O Oyebode, Research Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, UCL (University College London), 1-19 Torrington Place, London WC1E 6BT, UK.



Health data and statistics are the foundation of health policy. Over the last 20 years, numerous government documents have been commissioned and published to inform obesity strategies in the UK. The Health Survey for England, an annual cross-sectional survey of a nationally representative random general population sample in England, collects information on health, lifestyle and socioeconomic factors, physical measurements and biological samples. Heights and weights measured by the Health Survey for England are believed to have played a major part in promoting, shaping and evaluating obesity strategies. A formal review of how these data have been used has not been conducted previously.

This paper reviews government documents demonstrating the contribution of Health Survey for England examination data to every stage of the policy making process:

  • quantifying the obesity problem in England (e.g. Chief Medical Officer's reports);
  • identifying inequalities in the burden of obesity (Acheson report);
  • modelling potential future scenarios (Foresight);
  • setting and monitoring specific, measurable, attainable targets (calorie reduction challenge in manufacturers' Responsibility Deal);
  • developing and informing strategies and clinical guidance; and
  • evaluating the success of obesity strategies (Healthy Weights, Healthy Lives progress report).

Measurement data are needed and used by governments to produce evidence-based strategies to combat obesity.