Obesity

Obesity isn't an illness but piling on the pounds can increase your risk of developing various medical conditions.

These include: high blood pressure; heart disease; stroke; type 2 diabetes; some types of cancer; osteoarthritis (OA) and back pain; gallstones; sleep apnoea; and liver and kidney disease.

In the UK in 2014, 58 per cent of women and 65 per cent men of men were overweight or obese according to figures from the Health and Social Care Information Centre. Obesity prevalence shot up from 15 per cent in 1993 to 26 per cent in 2014.

Being obese isn't just a cosmetic problem though – it can take years off your life, which is why getting back to a healthy weight is one of the important things you can do to improve your health.

Apart from increasing your risk of stroke and type 2 diabetes, being overweight increases your chances of developing 11 different cancers including cancer of the bowel, oesophagus, pancreas, kidney, womb and breast. If more people could stick at a healthy weight, we could prevent one in six of these cancer cases and have 25,000 fewer a year in the UK.

Being overweight also puts more pressure on your joints, especially your knees. A study from The Parker Institute and Fredericksberg Hospital, Denmark on obese people with osteoarthritis of the knee found that when the volunteers lost weight (average 12.8 kg – just under one stone) over a year, they reported significant pain reduction.

Causes

Obesity is caused by consuming too many calories and not burning enough through activity and daily exercise. A sedentary lifestyle where you drive to work, sit down all day and take no exercise, puts you at high risk of weight gain.

Sometimes an underlying medical condition can cause you to gain weight such as a thyroid disorder or the side effects of prescription drugs, including steroids and some antidepressants. You may also gain weight because of a physical illness that restricts your mobility.

Symptoms

Having excess body fat – the symptoms are there to see: how you look in the mirror, how your clothes fit, and if you need further confirmation step onto the bathroom scales.

Diagnosis

You are technically overweight if you have a body mass index of 25 to 29.9, and obese if you have a BMI of 30 to 39.9. If your BMI is 40 plus you are classed as severely obese.

It can be quite shocking to hear that you fall into these categories – but don't be offended if a health professional breaks the news – treat it as a wake-up call and resolve to make some changes to your diet and lifestyle.

Your GP may talk to you about waist measurement as it is a significant indicator for your health, and reflects how much fat there is around your internal organs. Warning signs that you might be developing metabolic syndrome (a collection of risk factors for heart disease) include; a waist circumference of 94cm (37 inches) or more for European men; or 90cm (35.5 inches) or more in South Asian men; and 80cm (31.5 inches) or more in European and South Asian women.

Treatment

Most of us know the answer to this – the secret of weight loss is cutting your calorie intake and increasing your levels of exercise and activity – but sticking at it for the long term can be hard. For this reason, it's more sustainable to make small changes to your diet. Reduce your portion sizes, read food labels to check fat and sugar content, serve food on smaller plates, cut out sugary drinks and snacks and replace them with water, cut down on saturated fat and fill your plate up with vegetables.

You need to cut 3,500 calories a week to lose 1lb (0.45kg) of fat. Joining a slimming club may help if you have a lot of weight to lose. Aim for a weight loss of 2.2lb a week.

The other crucial part of losing weight is to burn more calories. Again, this doesn't mean signing up for a brutal boot camp or expensive gym, it's about building more activity into your daily life including walking, a good guide is to aim for at least 10,000 steps (3.5 miles a day).Walking two miles (3.2km) a day four times a week is enough to loss 1lb (0.45kg) a month.

The Department of Health recommend we should all aim for a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate activity (that includes walking, gardening, housework etc) a week. Try using a fitness tracker or pedometer to measure your activity and sign up for a fundraising walk or race to give yourself a motivational target. If you have less time you could try a HIIT workout.

Supplements which may aid weight loss include chromiumblack garlic and glucomannan (Konjac fibe).

Nothing beats a healthy, balanced diet to provide all the nutrients we need. But when this isn’t possible supplements can help. This article isn’t intended to replace medical advice. Please consult your healthcare professional before trying supplements or herbal medicines.

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