With National Obesity Awareness Week starting on 14th of January, there isn’t a more appropriate time to be thinking about this now common condition. It is a well-known fact that obesity is becoming more prevalent today, but let’s have a closer look at the facts.

The NHS reports that in 2016/17 there were 216,000 hospital admissions where obesity was a factor – an increase of 18% on 2015. Also in 2016, 26% of adults were classed as obese; an increase from 15% in 1993, but stats have remained at a similar level since 2010. Lastly, in 2016/17, 1 in 5 children in Year 6 and 1 in 10 children in reception year were classified as obese. As per a 2017 report, the UK has the sixth highest obesity percentage in the world – with the USA number 1.

Regarding the condition itself, obesity is when a person is overweight with a lot of body fat. There are many ways that a person’s health in relation to their weight can be classified, but the most common method is BMI (Body Mass Index). BMI is a measure of whether you’re a healthy weight for your height. You can use a calculator here to work out your BMI. Scores over 30 are classed as obese.

You could be fooled into thinking that carrying a bit of excess weight shouldn’t pose too much of a problem…. however, think again. Obesity increases the risk factor for all the following conditions:

• Type 2 diabetes
• Heart disease and stroke
• High blood pressure
• Some cancers
• Fatty liver disease
• Kidney disease
And more!

Surely this is a worrying prospect and as a nation we need to prevent the onset of obesity on both a personal and global level. However, we to do this we need to look at what the underlying causes actually are.

Firstly, let’s look at calorie intake and expenditure. As a rule; If a person eats more calories than they burn, a person will gain weight. If a person eats fewer calories than they burn he or she will lose weight. The most common causes for obesity are over-eating and physical inactivity. Weight gain is the result of a person’s genetics, metabolism, environment, behaviour and culture. However, we can only control the controllable!

Obesity causes we can affect:

Over-eating – this directly leads to weight gain, especially if a diet is high fat or sugar. Both these food groups have a high density of energy (a lot of calories in a small amount of food), so are easily over-consumed!

Frequency of eating – scientists have observed that people that eat smaller meals 4-5 times a day have lower cholesterol and insulin levels than those who eat 2-3 larger meals a day. The little and often approach to eating results in stable blood sugar/insulin levels rather than the spikes associated with large meals, and then the lows in between meals.

Physical inactivity – It’s simple, sedentary people burn fewer calories than active people.
Psychological factors – for some emotions direct eating habits. Some eat excessively in response to sadness, stress, anxiety, etc. This is can be exhibited as binge-eating or drinking.

So how do we go about turning the tide on obesity? A lot of the causes above are the results of habits and thoughts that have been ingrained over a long period. Couple this with the readily available food in the modern world and income levels relative to cheap foods and we have a recipe for disaster.

How do we look after ourselves better and reduce our chances of weight gain? Remember the energy balance: calories in = calories out? The first part is ensuring that we stay away from excess consumption.

Steps to keep obesity at bay

Step 1. Fresh vegetables and fruit contain far less energy than processed foods. Fresh produce generally is less energy dense than the manufactured alternative. Ensuring that you get your 5 a day is one way to reduce overall calorie consumption.

Step 2. Understand portion sizes. Try to understand how many calories you are consuming in a portion. Consider weighing food for a short time to gain a better understanding, or use an app such as My Fitness Pal to record what you are eating over the course of a day. You may be shocked!

Step 3. Get more movement into your day. Try to make opportunities to exercise; take the stairs at work, walk that short journey instead of driving. Get out of the office on your lunch break. Get gardening. Every little helps!

Step 4. Do some exercise! If you can, include some regular higher intense exercise into your week. This will raise your metabolism whilst exercising and if working hard, will keep it elevated for a period following the session. It is also a fact that those with more muscle-mass have higher metabolisms, so their bodies are burning more calories even when at rest.

As much as it easy to write these things down, it is much harder to create healthy habits. There is no simple approach to solving the complex problem of the obesity epidemic. There needs to be a consistent approach from politicians to local authorities and local organisations/businesses to schools and community leaders. But one obvious fact is that we need to focus on and support one another in healthy eating and regular physical exercise.