19 Feb 2019 4 min read

Working out the UK's obesity crisis

By Matt Soffair

Despite the high prevalence of obesity in the UK, the value of Britain’s gym market continues to grow. As these trends show no sign of abating, can the real estate sector put greater emphasis on wellbeing in retail and leisure to help get local communities more active?


In 2017, NHS Digital reported that 29% of UK adults were classed as obese, whilst 34% of children were categorised as overweight or obese by the time they left primary school, up from 15% in 1990.[1] The consequence of this trend for healthcare services is stark; obesity has a strong causal correlation with conditions such as heart disease and diabetes, and treating these puts immense strain on NHS budgets. This presents a bleak picture on both a societal and economic level, one that may prompt us to persevere with our New Year’s resolutions beyond January.

A growing proportion of the UK workforce is employed in more sedentary, office-based roles 

There are two underlying lifestyle trends that can be attributed to the acceleration of these issues. Firstly, our day-to-day lifestyles are becoming increasingly unhealthy. A growing proportion of the UK workforce is employed in more sedentary, office-based roles where, in short, we eat too much and fail to do enough exercise. Secondly, whilst there is a segment of the population that spends a greater proportion of their time and disposable income on their wellbeing – as demonstrated by the number of UK adults with a gym membership growing by 29% between 2013 and 2018[2] – overall levels of physical activity have failed to improve.

This suggests that there has been little progress in getting historically inactive individuals engaged with physical activity. Further to this, there is an increasing body of evidence that suggests that physical inactivity and obesity growth is becoming more pronounced within deprived demographic groups.

The impact on commercial property owners

These lifestyle trends have important implications for commercial property owners. Delivering a broad suite of health and wellbeing services through commercial property is a prime example of how an asset can deliver social value. Providing affordable fitness and educational facilities in locations where consumers are already living, working and shopping can help engage the local community in meaningful ways.

The value of the UK’s wellness market is estimated to reach £12.4 billion by 2020,[3] presenting opportunities for a breadth of services that can be incorporated into retail and leisure assets to engage local communities. This can include gyms, social fitness providers, athleisure retailers or health-orientated food and beverage operators.

The value of the UK’s wellness market is estimated to reach £12.4 billion by 2020

This is mutually beneficial for owners and occupiers; gym operators, for example, benefit from access to prominent locations, with high footfall levels and good car parking. Similarly for owners, the long leases, strong covenants and frequent visits provided by gym operators are attractive and can help to curate multi-purpose retail and leisure destinations that drive footfall across different day parts.

There is no quick fix for UK’s obesity crisis. Behaviours relating to both diet and physical activity are time-consuming to change. However, offering a broader suite of wellness services within retail and leisure assets can help to engage and educate local communities on their health and wellbeing, whilst also providing commercial value to occupiers and owners.

[1] NHS Digital: Statistics on Obesity, Physical Activity and Diet, 2018. Adult obesity is classed as a BMI over 30kg/m²; childhood obesity is compared to a benchmark of children’s height and weight in 1990; the top 15% are classed as overweight, and the top 5% as obese.

[2] Allegra Strategies, 2018

[3] Global Data, 2018

Matt Soffair

Senior Research Manager, Real Assets

Matt is LGIM Real Assets’ Senior Research Manager, specialising in the retail, leisure and hotel sectors. Matt is responsible for market research, influencing strategic operational initiatives and guiding investment strategy in the retail, leisure and hotel sectors, while also being responsible for research into key thematic areas, including transition risk, operational research and emerging alternatives sectors.

Matt joined LGIM Real Assets in 2018, having spent over seven years at specialist retail and leisure consultancy, CACI, where he held the title of Managing Consultant and was Head of Leisure consultancy. At CACI, Matt worked with over 45 retail and leisure operators to inform their property and customer acquisition strategies.

Matt Soffair