Help & Advice
Over 60% of the British population is carrying excess body fat and can be classified as either overweight or obese. Obesity is thought to be responsible for 30,000 deaths a year in the UK. It is a major public health crisis that continues to be a problem among young and old.
How do I know if I’m overweight?
1. By calculating your body mass index (BMI), you can determine whether you are at a healthy weight for your height. Your BMI is a combination of your height and weight.
A BMI of:
- 25 to 29.9 is classified as overweight
- 30 to 39.9 is obese
- 40 or above is severely obese
However, BMI is not always an accurate way to identify obesity, especially in those who are particularly muscular, as muscle weighs more than fat. Conversely, BMI in the older population can be an underestimate as we lose muscle mass with age. A BMI calculator is available on the NHS website, Click here
2. Waist circumference is an additional measure to help diagnose obesity.
An unhealthy waist circumference is typically considered to be:
- 94 cm or more in men
- 80 cm or more in women
What is the cause of weight gain?
Weight gain is simply a consequence of taking in more calories than you burn through normal bodily functions and physical activity. The body naturally stores these excess calories as fat, a survival mechanism of our bodies to prevent starvation in the case of a food shortage.
Factors that make us prone to excessive weight gain include:
- We are more likely to be overweight if one or both of our parents are overweight
- Genes can determine how much fat we burn or store and where we store it in our bodies
- Environmental factors
- Busy work schedules and long hours in the office make it difficult to eat healthy and exercise often. A long commute can also contribute to having less time to be healthy.
- An inactive lifestyle with excessive time spent in front of a computer, television or work desk means less time for physical activity. Lack of green space or inability to afford a gym could also discourage physical activity. Cars and other modern conveniences make it easier to be less active than we were in the past.
- It is easy to make unwise dietary choices due to advertising of high-calorie foods, oversized food portions and the higher cost of healthy eating.
- Psychological factors:
- Some people seek comfort in food and eat more when they are stressed, bored or angry.
- Health Conditions involving hormone imbalance such as underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism) or polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) can lead to excessive weight gain.
- Medications can lead to weight gain by increasing the appetite, slowing the rate at which your body burns calories or increasing the amount of water retained.
- Such medications include corticosteroids, certain antidepressants and seizure medications
- Menopause in middle-aged women and muscle loss with increased age (muscle requires more energy and increases the metabolism) are reasons for weight gain.
Often it is a combination of these factors that causes one to be overweight or obese.
What are the consequences of being overweight?
Those who are overweight are more likely to develop, amongst other things:
- Coronary heart disease (CHD)
- Diabetes (Type 2)
- High blood pressure and cholesterol
- Certain types of cancer
- Reproductive problems
- Psychological problems such as depression
What is the treatment for being overweight?
There are a number of options for trying to reduce weight:
- Lifestyle changes
- Decrease the amount calories you consume and/or increase your physical activity
- Be suspicious of diets that promise amazing results but don’t involve healthy, balanced eating. Such fad diets rarely result in long-term weight loss.
- Try to make changes that you can stick to overtime so that the weight stays off
- Healthy eating plan
- Choose foods low in cholesterol, salt, added sugar, saturated and trans fat. Limit alcohol as it is a high source of calories.
- Monitor your food portions and decrease if necessary
- Choose foods that you like, can afford and are readily available so healthy eating can be a long-term achievement.
- Physical activity
- Start slowly and build up to 150 to 300 minutes per week with a combination of stretching, aerobic, muscle and bone strengthening activities.
- Being active has added benefits on sleep, mood and energy.
- Some find it motivational to exercise with a group
- There are many products available that claim to reduce weight. Unfortunately, many are ineffective or potentially harmful. It is worth doing your own research and asking a healthcare professional before taking any medication advertised for weight loss. Xenical (orlistat) is a prescription only medicine that:
- Works by blocking chemicals in your body that digest fat, which limits the absorption of fats into the body by a third.
- Requires dietary changes and works best with physical activity
- May reduce weight by 10% over 6 months
- Is suitable for those with a BMI of at least 30 or 28 if they also have other health conditions and who have tried lifestyle modifications with limited or no success.
- In rare cases, weight loss surgery may be recommended.
- Is usually reserved for people with a BMI of at least 40 or at least 35 if they also have other serious conditions and have tried and failed all other safe means of weight reduction.
- In all cases an extensive risk-benefit analysis must be carried out first.