A survey published by NHS Digital has indicated that the majority of adults in the UK could be making themselves more prone to health problems with the unhealthy lifestyles they lead. 90% of adults from the total of 7,997 who were interviewed were found to have at least one unhealthy trait. These traits were categorised as drinking more than 14 units of alcohol each week, eating fewer than five portions of vegetables per day, being obese and inactivity.

Almost a third of men and women had two or more unhealthy traits. The most prevalent combination of these amongst men was drinking more than 14 units of alcohol and consuming a low amount of fruit and vegetables. For women, the most common combination was low fruit and vegetable consumption with obesity.

How was the survey conducted?

The Health Survey for England was created to analyse health trends from different age groups, living in households around the country. The survey involved an interview followed by a visit from a nurse to take some samples. It contained a number of core questions, and recorded measurements and various samples such as height and weight, blood and saliva and blood pressure.

Overweight and Obesity

It found that 64% of adults in the UK were either overweight or obese. Men were more likely to be overweight, but women were more likely to be obese. The survey also analysed the link between parents and children for the first time, and it found that 28% of children also had a mother who was obese, and 24% had a father who was obese. Furthermore, nearly half of parents (49.5%) of children who were obese thought that their child was the right weight. The survey also reported that only 29% of adults claimed to eat more than five portions of vegetables a day.


Since 1993, smoking among adults has declined from 27% to 17%. During this same period of time, the percentage of adults that have never smoked cigarettes regularly has increased from 46% to 57%. The statistics on the amount of children who smoke have also improved: the percentage of children between the ages of 8 and 15 who have never smoked a cigarette has decreased from 19% in 1997, to 5% in 2017 .

Alcohol consumption

It was also found that the percentage of men and women drinking more than 14 units each week had decreased. Between 2011-2017 in men, the change was 34% to 28%; and in women, 18% to 14%. The average amount of alcohol reportedly drunk from both the statistics of men and women was 11.8 units.

Were there any other positive outcomes from the survey?

Although many adults in this survey have admitted to having one or more of these risk factors which can increase the chance of developing diseases such as diabetes and high blood pressure, it showed some trends moving in the right direction. In addition to the adult alcohol and smoking figures discussed above, there was a dramatic drop in the proportion of children (aged 8-15) who had reportedly never had an alcoholic drink: 45% in 2003 to 14% in 2017.  

However, the statistics on obesity remain alarming, especially given that so many conditions related to diet can result from it. If parents do not start to recognise obesity in their own children, then it is difficult to see how these figures will improve.

Improving your health through lifestyle changes

There are several things you can do to address the unhealthy traits discussed:

  • You should aim to do about 150 minutes of moderate physical exercise each week to prevent associated problems from weight gain and obesity.
  • It can also help to examine food labels to make sure what you are eating falls within guidelines of recommended nutritional information.
  • Alcohol consumption should also be limited to under 14 units each week
  • If you smoke, stopping can help to lower the risk of heart disease and cancer.

If you are concerned about your own habits and how they may be affecting your health or putting you at risk of illness, speak to your doctor at your GP surgery who will be able to offer advice.