Obesity has more than doubled worldwide since 1980. It is a condition which can lead to life threatening illnesses. The good news is, obesity is a preventable disease. In this article we examine its causes, harmful effects and how it can be treated.
Defining and Measuring obesity
The term ‘obese’ describes a person who is very overweight.
The most commonly used method for classifying a person’s health in relation to their weight is called the Body Mass Index (BMI). Your BMI will indicate if you are a healthy weight for your height. You can use a BMI healthy weight calculator to find your score.
A general BMI guide for adults is:
- 18.5 to 24.9 – healthy weight
- 25 to 29.9 – overweight
- 30 to 39.9 – obese
- 40 – severely obese
BMI is not a definite measure of body weight, because people who are very muscular may have a high BMI without excessive body fat. But for most people it is a valuable measure of whether they’re a healthy weight, overweight or obese.
A more accurate measure of body fat is the circumference of the waist, which can be used as an additional measure on people who are overweight (with a BMI of 25 to 29.9) or moderately obese (with a BMI of 30 to 39.9).
Men with a waist circumference of 94cm (37 inches) or more and women with a waist circumference of 80cm (about 31.5 inches) or more are usually more likely to have obesity-related health problems.
Causes of obesity
Obesity is usually caused by consuming more calories than you burn off through physical activity. The energy not used is stored by the body as fat.
Obesity, once limited to rich countries, is increasingly a global problem. This is because the modern lifestyle involves eating excess amounts of cheap, high-calorie food and spending a lot of time sitting down either at school, at work, at home or even in the car or on public transport.
Underlying health conditions can also contribute to excessive weight gain for example hypothyroidism (having an under active thyroid gland). However, these conditions don’t usually cause weight gain if they are treated with medication.
Treating obesity is usually straightforward. You need to eat fewer calories and eat more healthily than before, and exercise more regularly. The basics include:
- Eating a balanced and calorie-controlled diet as recommended by a nutritionist or GP
- Joining a weight loss group or exercise class
- Beginning regular exercise (minimum twice a week) such as walking, jogging, swimming or another activity or sport for 150 to 300 minutes a week.
- Eating slowly, chewing food properly to feel more full, and avoiding situations where you can be tempted to overeat or eat junk food (for example, never go to the supermarket or the bakery on an empty stomach!).
As well as changes in diet and exercise an obese patient may benefit from treatment by a psychologist. The goal would be to change the way they think about food in general.
If changes in lifestyle aren’t sufficient to lose weight a GP might recommend a medication called Orlistat. This medication works by reducing the amount of fat absorbed during digestion. In extreme cases weight loss surgery may be advised.
While causing obvious physical changes, obesity can also cause a host of other problems which affect daily life including:
- Shortness of breath
- Excessive sweating
- Joint pain
- Low self-esteem
- Low confidence
Serious health conditions
There also many very serious health conditions which can be caused by obesity including:
- High blood pressure
- Type 2 diabetes
- Coronary heart disease
- High cholesterol and atherosclerosis
- Gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD) where stomach acid leaks out of the stomach and into the oesophagus (gullet)
- Liver disease and kidney disease
- Sleep apnea (when a person temporarily stops breathing in their sleep)
Obesity reduces life expectancy by an average of 3 to 10 years, depending on severity. It’s estimated by the NHS that obesity and being overweight contribute to 1 in every 13 deaths in Europe.
There is no shortcut to eliminating obesity. Diet and exercise programs take commitment over weeks and months, if not years. The Doctor, GP and any other health professionals involved with the care of an obese patient should monitor progress.
Even losing a small percentage of body weight such as 4% and maintaining the new weight can significantly reduce your risk of developing life threatening diseases. The path to a healthy weight can be long but the benefits are extensive and may even save your life.
We hope you found this article useful and will keep an even closer eye on your (and your own) child’s diet and exercise regime. What do you do to ensure you gets their necessary vitamin D intake? Did we miss anything out? Please let us know in the comments below.