The World Health Organisation revealed that obesity is now so common that it is beginning to replace malnutrition and infectious diseases as the most significant contributor to ill health around the world.
Obesity is linked to many serious diseases, especially diabetes, heart attacks and stroke, cancers, respiratory problems and mechanical strains on the joints which can contribute to osteoarthritis.
Why is obesity an increasing issue?
In the UK, the number of overweight people has increased by more than 400% over the past 25 years. Over half of us weigh more than is healthy and nearly one in four of us are obese, which can cause serious health problems.
This obesity epidemic is a result mainly of our modern way of life. A lot more of our working time is spent sat at computers these days, as opposed to partaking in manual labor, and our leisure time in increasingly enjoyed sitting in front of the TV.
Meanwhile our diet has changed and includes more energy-dense foods. We have become rather greedy and tend to snack and graze through food packed with sugar and fats in a way that would have been unimaginable just 50 years ago. For example, in the UK we wolf down more than two billion fast food meals and half a million tonnes of chocolate each year.
Weight is controlled by a very simple equation: the amount of energy we consume versus the energy we burn up during metabolism or normal bodily processes. Taking in more calories than we burn results in an excess that the body stores as fat. In other words, a significant number of Brits are eating too much food and not doing enough exercise.
What does metabolism have to do with obesity?
Some people are genetically programmed to burn energy at a low rate. They have a low metabolism which helps the body preserve energy supplies when food is short. These people’s ancestors would have been the survivors of times of famine or adversity, but in 21st-century Britain where food shortage is rare, these people can steadily become overweight.
Your metabolic rate also slows down with age, so it becomes harder to control weight unless you exercise more or eat less.
3 top tips for maintaining a healthy weight
1. Speed up your metabolism
The most effective way to turn up your metabolic rate is to do 20 minutes of exercise per day at an intensity that makes you out of breath. This won’t just burn up extra calories but can keep your metabolism revved up for some hours afterwards.
Drinking plenty of fluids also helps. If you are dehydrated, your body temperature can drop slightly, with results in a fall in your metabolic rate.
Some people also swear by green tea as a way to speed up their metabolism. Studies suggest that a regular intake of green tea can burn up to 100 calories a day by stimulating thermogenesis, a body process that burns fat to raise the body’s core temperature.
2. Know your weight
The first step is to work out if you are overweight by measuring your body mass index or BMI. You can find more information at your doctor’s surgery, but as a rough guide, a BMI less than 18.5 is underweight, 18.5-25 is normal, 25-30 is moderately overweight, 30-40 is obese and above 40 is very severely obese.
However, some experts have become concerned that BMI measurements don’t take into account the particular dangers of extra fat around the middle of your body. They suggest that we should monitor our size simply by putting a tape measure around the waist.
Health risks are increased when waist circumference is greater than 80cm (31ins) for women and 94cm (37ins) for men and especially high when the waist is more than 88cm (34ins) for women or 102cm (40ins) for men.
3. Reduce calorie intake
A long standing and foolproof approach to losing weight is to change either one end, or both ends of the metabolic spectrum. This means eating less and or exercising more.
There are dozens of diets that can help to reduce calorie intake but in general slower, gentler diets are healthier and better because you are more likely to stick to them. Always follow a balanced diet to ensure that you get all the essential nutrients you need.
One thing to keep an eye on is your snacking. An 11am or 4pm snack is sometimes irresistible, but try to avoid those that are heavy on the calories and brimming with extra sugar. Stick to healthier snacks such as fruit and vegetables or nut butters and wholegrains that will help keep you fuller for longer.