Obesity and its health consequences can be largely preventable, which is why there is a drive to raise awareness about its causes, consequences and how it can be avoided. It is not easy to avoid or prevent obesity due to factors such as the environment and lifestyle that we live. Read on to find out more on the issues associated with obesity, factors that influence this, and how we can reduce our risk of developing illnesses linked to obesity.
What is obesity?
Obesity is defined by the World Health Organisation as the abnormal or excessive accumulation of fat that poses a risk to health (1). Obesity is identified using the Body Mass Index (BMI), however, this has been criticised as an inaccurate measure of body fat because it does not distinguish between the composition of body mass i.e. is the mass from fat or is it lean mass such as muscle (2). However, it is still considered a good system of measurement for the general population, and medical practitioners such as dietitians use other methods like waist to hip ratio and skin-fold thickness as well as BMI to assess body fat mass more accurately.
It is currently estimated that over a quarter of adults in the UK are obese and almost 38% of adults are overweight but not obese. Reports have also shown that 10.1% of reception- aged children (4-5 year olds) and 23.4% of children in year 6 are living with obesity. These numbers have rapidly increased in the previous decades and the amount of adults in the UK who are obese has nearly doubled since the 1990’s (3).
Health risks associated with obesity
You may be wondering why this is an issue. A common misconception is that the focus on obesity prevention is merely for aesthetic purposes. However, it is much more important than that. People with obesity are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes, cancers and cardiovascular diseases- such as stroke (4). This also is important to note for children, who are more likely to continue with these health conditions into adulthood (5). These health consequences affect the quality of life of individuals living with obesity and have also been shown to impact life expectancy (6). Mental health factors such as self-esteem can be impacted by overweight and obesity and people with obesity are more likely to develop depression (7).
There are many influences to the occurrence of obesity some of which cannot be changed. For example, genetics or chronic health conditions such as hypothyroidism, polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) and certain hormone deficiencies among many other factors. However, obesity comprises many factors that can be changed such as energy intake, physical activity levels, and sedentary time (8).
Obesity is complex but at its core it is enabled by taking in more energy than the body needs, which ultimately leads to the excess fat accumulation that characterises it (9). Energy intake is usually balanced by energy expenditure to maintain body weight, however 23.4% of the adult population in the UK are classified as inactive which means they do less than 30 minutes of physical activity a week, and are therefore less able to regulate their energy balance (8, 10). Furthermore, there has been a shift to more sedentary jobs (desk jobs) which increases the number of inactive hours we have a day. The work from home initiative implemented during the pandemic has also been highlighted as a factor contributing to the decrease in physical activity (11). Physical inactivity, excess sedentary time, and consumption of excess energy through food or drink, therefore make individuals more susceptible to becoming obese. Low socioeconomic background is also associated with increased obesity in children, while ethnicity affects risk across the population with Black adults and children being at the highest risk, compared to White adults (3).
The focus of this year’s World Obesity Day is “Changing perspectives : Let’s talk about obesity”. So, we are going to shed light on some common misconceptions.
- ‘Obesity is an individual problem’: there are many ways in which the environment we live in can influence our risk of becoming obese. Easy, cheap and convenient access to calorie-dense and nutrient-poor foods, access to safe space for physical activity, and the perceived cost of healthy foods are some among many aspects of a person’s environment that may influence their risk (12).
- ‘Dieting works in the long term’: studies have suggested that continuous dieting can cause cycles of weight loss and regain which makes it harder to lose weight (13). Instead of restrictive eating and calorie-counting, we recommend that you speak to a qualified health professional (such as a registered dietitian) who can assist you in making sustainable changes with long-lasting impact.
- ‘Obesity is a lifestyle choice’: obesity is in fact a disease as it increases the risk of major health issues (14). Recognising obesity as a disease will reduce the stigma associated with it and aid helpful conversations and research on how to reduce its prevalence in the future.
How can I reduce my risk?
Obesity is avoidable and by following these helpful tips, you can reduce your risk.
- Modify your portion sizes- follow the Eatwell Guide as an example of a balanced diet. For more specific and tailored advice on portion sizes, please reach out to our team of registered dietitians.
- Make swaps to healthier foods- the Better Health website has valuable information about how to make small changes that benefit your diet. This is general public information, so you may benefit from a 1-1 approach that we offer.
- Reduce your alcohol intake- excess alcohol contributes to increases in energy intake. Drinkaware offer useful information on how to reduce your intake.
- Incorporate more moving into your day- try Walking for health or Couch to 5k for something more up tempo.
- Break up sedentary time- if you are at home or have a job that involves extended periods of sitting, you could try going for a walk on your break or try working standing up.
- If you are already living with obesity or are at risk, contact us today to arrange a 1-1 consultation and a personalised plan, to help support you on your journey to better health.
Want help with a healthy weight loss? At Dietitian Fit, we offer a tailored weight management programme. Our 3 Months or 6 Months Programme are life changing and completely bespoke. Book an appointment here
By Esther Longe, Dietetic Student, revised by Reema Patel.