Updated: Sep 18, 2020
We’ve all heard of the term ‘obesity’ – but do we really understand what it means?
According to Public Health England, 62.7% of adult males and 61.5% of adult females are obese or overweight. And The Times highlights the issue in a recent article on male obesity.
‘Obesity’ and ‘overweight’ are medical terms which define excess fat levels, based on Body Mass Index (BMI). A Belgian called Adolphe Quetelet invented the BMI scale back in the 1830s, which estimates if a person is underweight (BMI of 16-18.5), normal (18.5-25), overweight (25-30) or obese (30-35). You can calculate your BMI score by dividing your weight in kg by height in m2…or you can download the easy-to-use NHS app, which does all the calculations for you. And you can input both metric or imperial, so no mathematical gymnastics are needed either.
There are some limitations though: BMI doesn’t take individual factors into account, like calculating lean (muscle) mass as opposed to fat mass, body composition of different ethnic groups, growing children, pregnancy or lactation, and reduced muscle mass in older people.
But it is a useful tool, just like your Fitbit or bathroom scales, to keep a regular and ongoing check of your health over a period of time. Being in the overweight or obese categories increases your risk of developing ‘metabolic syndrome’ disease, a group of conditions which include high blood sugar, excess body fat, increased blood pressure and high cholesterol levels. In turn, these increase the risk of ‘co-morbidities’: heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes.
Your waist circumference is another easy measurement for central adiposity (aka waist fat!), a marker for dangerous amounts of internal fat around your key organs (heart and liver). For anyone carrying their weight around their waist, check out the Ashwell Shape chart, which measures waist:height ratio. Or use a length of string: measure your height with the string and then wrap the string around your waist; it should go around your waist at least twice…
The main mechanism for weight gain is generally seen as energy imbalance: excess calories in, compared with energy used. But excess weight and obesity are complex, multi-factorial conditions combining a number of causes, not least our obesogenic environment and technological lifestyles. Psychological, economic and hormonal factors also play their part, as do our genetics.
Feeling depressed by this? Don’t be - these conditions can all be managed or avoided by us. Yes, us - you and me. Not just a pill or potion, but by our own selves - how brilliant is that?!
We’ve heard a lot about genetics recently, and how they predispose us to certain medical conditions. But that’s just it – they predispose us, but don’t need to define us. There’s a saying: “our genetics load the gun, but it’s our lifestyle that pulls the trigger”. So, we have choice, and when we choose to do right by our body, good things can happen.
The Government’s recent advice to lose weight is, in my opinion, hugely welcomed. But not just because being overweight or obese puts us at more risk of catching Covid-19, but because carrying excess weight increases our risk of a number of diseases which contribute to ill-health, lack of immune resilience and compromised life quality. And we all want to live life well, don’t we?