More than 1 million NHS prescription items were dispensed to treat obesity in England in 2006 - eight times the number dispensed in 1999 - according to a compendium of statistics on obesity, physical activity and diet published by the Information Centre for health and social care.

The compendium, released alongside the Health Survey for England 2006, showed the number of prescription items dispensed in primary care was 1.06 million in 2006, compared with 127,000 in 1999.

The majority of these prescriptions were for two drugs: sibutramine and orlistat. Sibutramine alters chemical messages to the brain that control feelings and thoughts about food, while orlistat prevents some fat absorption in the intestine.

Information Centre chief executive Tim Straughan said: "Information such as the large rise in obesity prescriptions paints an indicative picture of the population today and will help policy makers and healthcare professionals plan for tomorrow."

Figures also showed obesity in children aged two to 15 increased overall from 11 per cent in 1995 to 16 per cent in 2006. However, the proportion of obese girls aged two to 15 fell from 18 per cent in 2005 to 15 per cent in 2006. Future years' data will show whether this is part of a downward trend.

Cardiovascular disease

The Health Survey for England, which monitors national trends in areas such as obesity and physical activity and this year focused on cardiovascular disease, showed more than one in five of all men and nearly a quarter of all women are at very high risk of developing health problems such as CVD, the main cause of death in England. The findings were based on waist circumference and body mass index measurements.

The survey also found people on low incomes are most likely to have cardiovascular disease, low levels of fruit and vegetable consumption, and low levels of physical activity, while men on high incomes are most likely to be overweight (but not obese).

For a full version of the Health Survey for England 2006, visit www.ic.nhs.uk/pubs/hse06cvdandriskfactors

For a full version of Statistics on Obesity, Physical Activity and Diet 2006, visit www.ic.nhs.uk/pubs/opadjan08

For a full version of the Health Survey for England 2006 updated trend tables, visit www.ic.nhs.uk/pubs/hse06trends