This article has been medically approved by Pharmacist Sumaiya Patel - GPhC Reg No: 2215078
In the UK, it’s estimated that 1 in 4 adults are obese. Being overweight or obese can affect the way you feel on a daily basis and can have a long-term impact on your health. In our article below, we’ll look at the risks, causes, and treatments for obesity.
Are you obese?
The most common method of checking if you’re a healthy weight is by checking your body mass index (BMI). The easiest way to work out your BMI is to use a BMI calculator like this one on the NHS website.
For most adults, a BMI of:
- 18.5 – 24.9 means you’re a healthy weight
- 25 – 29.9 means you’re overweight
- 30 – 39.9 means you’re obese
- 40 or above means you’re severely obese
For most people, BMI can be a useful indication to tell if they are a healthy weight, but it shouldn’t be used to diagnose obesity as it does have limitations. For example, very muscular people may have a high BMI but a low body fat percentage.
An additional measure of excess fat is waist size. Carrying too much excess fat around your middle is linked to a higher risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, cancer, and strokes. Women should aim for a waist size of 80cm (31.5in) or less, and men should aim for a waist size of 94cm (37in) or less.
Health risks of obesity
It’s important to take steps to bring your weight back into a healthy range if you are obese. This is because it can lead to a number of serious short-term and long-term health conditions.
In the short-term, obesity can cause:
- Increased sweating
- Difficulty doing physical activity
- Often feeling very tired
- Joint and back pain
- Low confidence and self-esteem
- Feeling isolated
In the long-term, obesity can lead to:
- Type 2 diabetes
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol and atherosclerosis (where fatty deposits narrow your arteries)
- Coronary heart disease
- Metabolic syndrome (a combination of diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity)
- Several types of cancer
- Gastro-oesophageal Reflux Disease (GORD) which causes acid reflux
- Reduced fertility
- Osteoarthritis (pain and stiffness in your joints)
- Sleep apnoea
- Liver disease
- Kidney disease
- Pregnancy complications like gestational diabetes and pre-eclampsia
Obesity reduces life expectancy by an average of 3 to 10 years, depending on how severe it is.
Causes of obesity
Typically obesity is caused by consuming more calories than you burn. These excess calories are stored as fat. Obesity is becoming an increasingly common issues because, for many people, modern living involves eating lots of high calorie food and spending a lot of time sitting.
Some underlying health conditions, like an underactive thyroid gland (hypothyroidism), can cause weight gain. However, these conditions shouldn’t cause weight problems if they’re effectively manages with medication.
Treatments for obesity
The best way to treat obesity is to lose weight. To do this, you should:
- Eat a balanced, calorie-controlled diet as recommended by your GP or other health professional (like a dietician)
- Join a local weight loss group
- Start doing moderate exercise (like fast walking, jogging, or swimming) for 2.5 to 5 hours a week
- Eat smaller portions, chew slowly, and wait for half an hour after a meal before eating more (if you’re still hungry)
if dietary and exercise changes have not worked to effectively lose wright, then doctors can prescribe medication to tackle the weight gain. The only medication currently prescribed is called orlistat. If taken correctly, orlistat helps to reduce the amount of fat that you absorb during digestion.
If your weight is life threatening, weight loss (bariatric) surgery may be recommended.
It’s important to remember that there’s no quick fix for obesity. Weight loss programmes take time and commitment, and there may be challenges along your journey. To set yourself up for success, check out our article Top Tips to Set Your Health Goals.