National Obesity Awareness Week: Everything you need to know about obesity

Illustration image of female with yellow measuring tape behind text that reads National Obesity Awareness Week. BHC logo in white in bottom right corner.
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Obesity in the UK has become quite a problem. However, National Obesity Awareness Week aims to tackle the issue by reminding us all about the difficulties that come from being obese, what we can do to prevent it and how we can correct it if we are affected.

Obesity, or being very overweight, is when a person has excess fat that not only increases their weight but presents many health risks. With approximately 1 out of every 4 UK adults now classified as very overweight or obese, this makes it a national health concern. According to the NHS, obesity is estimated to affect 1 in every 5 children (aged 10 to 11). It’s thought by 2035, that the rates of severe obesity across the whole UK population will be double that of the current rate. Many healthcare practitioners are concerned about not only the health risks associated with obesity, but by the pressure this could put on the NHS.

However, a lot could change between now and then. From 13 to 20 January 2020, it’s National Obesity Awareness Week. This week is all about raising awareness of obesity, how it affects our health, and what we can do to improve the nation’s collective wellbeing. Whether it’s being more physically active or keeping a closer eye on what we eat, even small changes can go a long way to promote healthy living. In this article, Better Healthcare is going to discuss obesity, the short-term and long-term health implications and what can be done to keep yourself healthy and support a loved one living with obesity too.

What is obesity?

Obesity is a medical condition that describes when a person is carrying an excessive amount of weight – often body fat – that can cause health complications. In the UK, whether someone is obese or not can usually be easily measured by a body mass index (BMI). A figure is calculated from a formula using your height and weight to give you a score and an ideal weight for your height. Your weight can be scored either as ‘underweight’, ‘healthy’, ‘overweight’, ‘obese’ or ‘severely obese’. While some people, particularly those who are very muscular, may skew these readings, BMI is a useful tool in determining a healthy weight in most people.

If you would like to check your BMI, the NHS has an easy-to-use online BMI calculator here. Another good way to figure out excess body fat is to measure your waist size. Generally, women with a waist size of 80cm or more and men with a waist size of 94cm or more are most at risk of being obese.

Obesity and severe obesity can cause or contribute to many health complications and health risks. These include, but are not limited to:

It is important to note that excess weight can affect different people in different ways. Studies have shown that some people who are obese may have very few complications, while others may have many. This can be to do with a person’s body, their physical fitness levels, and how many risk factors of a particular disease or illness can be applied to them. Irrespective of the person, obesity in itself is still quite a significant risk factor for many serious health conditions, and severe obesity is almost always guaranteed to lead to serious and life-threatening conditions over the long-term.

What causes obesity?

Calorie intake: The causes of obesity are almost always centred around the intake of calories. This is caused by the consumption of daily calories that exceed the number of calories burned off during physical activity and exercise in a day. The types of calories consumed can also play a factor, with obesity often associated with foods that are either fatty or high in sugar. This abundance of energy is stored in the body as fat. This storage of fat is made easier by our modern lifestyles where we are often consuming affordable and copious amounts of high-calorie foods, while spending a lot of time sitting down at office desks, on the sofa or even in the car. As this excessive consumption continues over a long period of time, the body has no reason to burn off the stored fat and instead it will continue to stockpile what it doesn’t need to function on a day-to-day basis.

Lack of exercise: Many current jobs require the person to be seated at a desk for most of the day with little time to perform any physical activities. In addition, many tend to watch TV or play video games to relax. While these are not ‘bad’ activities, it’s crucial to include regular exercise into a daily or weekly routine.

If a person isn’t doing a sufficient amount of exercise or physical activity, the unused energy provided by the food you eat will be stored as fat. Adults are recommended to do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity like cycling, running and swimming. Even fast walking is suitable.

Certain diseases and medications: Living with hypothyroidism (an underactive thyroid gland) can cause someone to be overweight and obese. This generally only happens if the condition is underlying and has yet to be diagnosed, as the medication used to treat hypothyroidism often helps control this side effect. This can also be true of those who live with Cushing’s syndrome. Those living with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) may also experience weight gain.

Genetics and family inheritance: While there are genetic conditions such as the rare Prader-Willi syndrome – symptoms include an excessive appetite and overeating, which can lead to obesity –most people can avoid becoming obese. Inherited genetic traits like having a large appetite that may also contribute towards someone becoming obese, but it is still possible to prevent obesity.

Overall, genetics may increase a person’s susceptibility to obesity. However, environmental factors like an abundant supply of unhealthy food and behavioural decisions like minimal exercise still play a key role in becoming obese.

Age: Although obesity can occur at any age, older people tend to struggle more with weight management. Hormonal changes and decreased muscle mass can lead to a slower metabolism, which in turn leads to weight gain. As we get older, it is essential to recognise these changes and consciously control what we choose to eat and maintain regular exercise.

Lack of sleep and stress: Generally, the hormonal changes associated with lack of sleep can cause an increase in appetite. People suffering from a lack of sleep may crave higher-calorie and carbohydrate-rich foods. Stress is also considered a possible cause of obesity – some people turn to high-calorie ‘comfort’ foods when in stressful circumstances.

The health risks of obesity

As aforementioned, a person who is obese has an increased risk of developing various health conditions – some of which can be life-shortening or life-threatening. According to a 2014 report from Public Health England, 90% of adults aged 16-54 with type 2 diabetes are overweight or obese. It’s believed that being overweight cause changes to cells that makes them insulin resistant, leading to higher blood sugar levels.

Heart issues are also very prominent among people who are obese. High blood pressure has been linked to having a larger body that requires the heart to pump harder to supply blood to the cells. High cholesterol, heart disease and strokes are also linked to people who are obese. You can read more about heart health in our post ‘How to improve your heart health’.

Issues such as osteoarthritis, due to the extra pressure of weight on cartilage and joints, as well as sleep apnoea (when a person misses breaths during sleep), are also common amongst those who are obese. If left unchecked, the latter can even be fatal. Cancer risk is also increased when a person is very overweight, particularly the risk of breast, bowel, colon, rectum, gallbladder, endometrium (uterus lining) and kidney cancers. Lastly, diseases such as kidney and fatty liver disease are prominent in people who are obese.

What is considered severe obesity?

Severe obesity, also known as morbid obesity, is when a person’s weight is, according to the BMI scale, about 100 pounds over their ideal weight. This further increases the health risks associated with being obese and the development of serious diseases that may result in physical disability or death.

Severe obesity can also result in decreased levels of oxygen in the blood (hypoxemia) which, when combined with sleep apnoea, can cause a person to feel tired throughout the day and may lead to high blood pressure. This can spark pulmonary hypertension, a condition damaging to the heart. Additionally, people with severe obesity may face numerous mobility and accessibility challenges. The pressure that extra weight can put on the body can make it difficult to perform regular exercise and be physically active.

Encouraging a loved one to make health changes

If your loved one is living with obesity or severe obesity, it can sometimes be a frustrating experience. You may feel concerned about your loved one’s weight and how it affects their health, but they may not want to talk about the subject. Whatever the reason for someone being very overweight or obese, it’s important to respect that what they do with their own body is their choice. However, if you are worried that a loved one’s weight is getting out of control, you could try suggesting healthier types of foods and drinks. If you are in a position to do so, you may even prepare meals for you and your loved one that can reflect these changes. You could even encourage them to take up exercise – and offer to do it with them too.

Ultimately, your loved one has to make their own choices about what they consume and how they live their life. Encouraging and motivating a loved one to make changes, as opposed to complaining and being negative towards them, can be a more effective way of helping them to consider a healthier lifestyle.

How to tackle obesity

If a person wants to do something about their obesity, there are many ways that a healthier weight can be achieved. The most important of these ways is through making dietary changes. We’re not talking about ‘crash dieting’, but through a reduction of daily calorie intake, less carbohydrates and healthier meals. Diets containing fibre and protein help us feel fuller sooner, ensuring that we aren’t prone to over-eating. Too many carbohydrates, (also known as carbs) such as sugar, are linked with obesity, so focusing on healthier, regulated meals that are low on carbs and high in protein and fibre will help to reduce a person’s weight over time.

Exercise and physical activity also play a significant part in the success of a person’s weight loss attempts. While a person’s obesity may prevent them from intense physical activity, even small changes – such as going for a short walk – can help to get the body moving and burning calories. Lastly, stress can play a huge factor in why we turn to comfort food. Keeping on top of your stress levels is an important step. Ensuring that your sleeping pattern is in good order is also important, as is ensuring that you eat meals at regular intervals.

Before you make any drastic changes to your lifestyle, it’s vital that you talk to your GP first. They may be able to offer you healthcare advice or point you in the direction of resources available in your local area, such as support groups.

How Better Healthcare can help people with obesity

If you or a loved one lives with obesity or severe obesity, it may present everyday life with a number of different challenges – particularly when it comes to getting around and getting things done. For example, household chores can pose problems.

At Better Healthcare, we provide carers to support people who are struggling with their daily or weekly tasks. Our primary concern is improving a person’s quality of life and allowing their loved ones some peace of mind. For people with obesity, this can be anything from helping with light housework to supporting them through the dietary changes that they may be making as we support with meal preparation. We can help you keep on track, offer encouragement to help you reach your goals and even help prepare nutritious meals. However, we always follow the lead of our clients, and our care workers will not pressure you to make any changes that you are not comfortable with.

At Better Healthcare, our team is concerned with supporting those in need and that’s why we support National Obesity Awareness Week. We believe in empowering people to improve their health and ensuring that they have the framework to help them achieve these goals. To find out more about how our home care and live-in care workers can support you at home, simply give us a call on 0800 668 1234 or talk to our friendly customer care team at your local Better Healthcare office today.

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