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The big issue: Obesity

tape measure_woman_14_08_12Beware, those stubborn bingo-wings and extra tyres can have a devastating effect on your health.

Poor diets and a lack of exercise are causing a major UK health problem – obesity. And it’s not just adults that are affected – rising levels of obesity in children means the country is suffering from an epidemic. In order to combat this problem, you need to act sooner rather than later. Did you know, you’re defined as obese if you have a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or greater, while 40 or greater is classed as ‘very severely obese’.

Here’s a stark fact. Obesity is the most serious health issue facing the UK. And it is a modern problem – statistics for it did not even exist 50 years ago. However, recent figures have revealed that by 2050, nine out of 10 British adults and two-thirds of children will be overweight or obese if everyone continues to live the unhealthy lifestyles they lead now. Currently, 24% of women in the UK are obese compared to 23% of men. Obesity can cause various health problems, with one of the biggest concerns being the soaring rate of Type 2 diabetes. In itself, diabetes is a debilitating condition, but it’s also connected to a higher risk of other problems, such as heart disease and strokes. Obesity is also linked to certain cancers.

Measure up!

Researchers at The City College of New York have developed a new obesity measurement tool called A Body Shape Index (ABSI) that combines both body mass index (BMI) and waist circumference, a measure used to determine the amount of belly fat a person has. Abdominal fat is linked to high cholesterol, high blood pressure and insulin resistance. The researchers measured ABSI in more than 14,100 US adults and found that a high ABSI, indicative of a large amount of belly fat, significantly increased the risk of premature death. A high BMI also predicted the risk of an early death, but to a lesser degree than ABSI. Regardless of how reliable ABSI may prove to be, BMI is still very useful as an overall measure of body fat.

Britain’s fattest teenager
It took a team of 40 people eight hours to free Britian’s largest teen from her home in Aberdare, Wales

Earlier this year, it was reported that Georgia Davis, aged just 19, had to have the side of her parents’ house removed so that she could be taken to hospital after she collapsed at home and needed emergency treatment. Having reached a staggering 56st, she was unable to stand up by herself. Her parents said she was ordering takeaways all the time without their knowledge and allegedly spent £5,000 in one year at the local kebab shop where she would order seven doners at a time washed down by two 1.5 litres bottles of Coca-Cola. One large kebab can contain as many as 2,000 calories.

Tackling it head on

Organisations representing nearly every doctor in the UK have united in a campaign to tackle rising levels of obesity. The campaign will start by reviewing the case for imposing fat taxes, promoting exercise, restricting food advertising and other measures. Prof Terence Stephenson, a spokesman for the campaign, said: ‘Obesity is a huge problem for the UK. It’s bigger than HIV was and is much more widespread than swine flu.’ The first phase of the new campaign will try to find out what works. It will review evidence for diets, exercise, taxation, minimum pricing, changing advertising and food labelling, which medical procedures work and how children are educated. Visit for more information on how to combat this time bomb.

  1. You should be able to see a 10-year-old’s ribs – but many think this is a sign of malnutrition.
  2. Three in 10 boys and girls (aged two to 15) are classed as overweight (31%) or obese (29%).
  3. In 2010, one in 10 children (9.4%) in reception class, aged four to five, were classified as obese compared to one fifth (19%) of children in year six (aged 10-11).
  4. Just over a quarter of adults in England are currently classified as obese (with a Body Mass Index or BMI of over 30) and 60.8% are classed as overweight, with a BMI of 25 – 29.9.
  5. In the US, 34% of adults are classed as obese – that is over one third of the population and equates to over 100 million people.

Alice was a size 18
‘My daughter was bullied and we were distracted by that’

Sarah Hewson, from Bolton, is mum to Alice Hewson, 14, who struggles with her weight.

‘When she was younger, Alice suffered from headaches and was being monitored at Manchester Children’s Hospital. Every time she had an appointment she was weighed. The doctor told my husband and I she was above the normal weight range. This was made worse when Alice started to become a victim of bullying. ‘The children at school were nasty to her, calling her names and telling her she was fat, so eventually we moved her to a different school. But while it was going on she just kept eating, and she wouldn’t go out. Even though we knew she was overweight, because she was being bullied, we were distracted by that and we just wanted to make her happy. She always seemed hungry and was buying crisps and chocolate on the way to school.

‘At her heaviest, she was 13st and a size 18. It was our family GP who recommended the Mind, Exercise, Nutrition…Do it! (MEND) programme and it’s changed all our lives. Alice has dropped almost a stone since September 2011 – she’s now a dress size 14. The biggest change, though, is the boost to her confidence. ‘Before, Alice was lethargic and couldn’t be bothered to go out, but she has just taken part in the IronKids competition and ran 2.2km, something we all couldn’t have dreamed she would do 12 months ago.’ Alice says: ‘Being bullied wasn’t nice at all. I wasn’t going out and I was really unhappy. Now I have loads of confidence and MEND has really helped me. I feel loads better and my mum and dad are so proud of me.’ MEND helps overweight children and their families to become healthier during free sessions that run over 10 weeks. Visit or call 0800 230 0263.

Stand up and be counted

Robyn Lawley, 23, is causing a storm in the fashion world…

The stunning Australian plus-size model is the first to be featured in Vogue Australia. The size-14 model has also graced the cover of Vogue Italia and French Elle and has added her inimitable poise to countless editorials including The Times. Robyn said in a interview that she feels designers are beginning to have the confidence to design for plus size models. ‘Beauty comes in all shapes and sizes. It always has and always will,’ she said.

Carole lost 19st in one year
‘I was trapped in my body and in my house, and couldn’t see a way out’

Carole Wright, 55, is married to Steve and they live with their son Jonathan, 16, in Stockport, Cheshire.

‘I’ve always been big – I was 11lb when I was born and as an adult I reached 20st and stayed that weight for years. I got insults thrown at me all the time, but I came across as the fat, happy girl, even though inside I was miserable. ‘I tried every diet going, but failed every time. I adapted my life – I’d have to eye up chairs to work out if I could sit on them, I’d break toilet seats and all the time I was denying who I was. It was when I hit 50, problems started with knee pain that got so bad that I had to stop work. ‘For two years I sat on the sofa with my leg up because of the pain and in 2009 I went out of the house just four times. My husband and my son cared for me. I was trapped in my body and in my house and I couldn’t see a way out.

‘It was a friend’s BBQ that tipped the balance – I couldn’t sit down on her garden chairs and the pain in my legs was killing me. I asked my friend, Chrissie, to take me home. It was then when she asked me to go to Slimming World with her. ‘When I went on the scales in my first meeting, I weighed 29st and 10lb but when I turned round, there must have been 100 people in the room and they all stood up and each of them gave me a hug. I knew then I wasn’t being judged.

‘In the first year I dropped 13st and that was without exercise. In the second, I lost another 6st 10lb and took up swimming. Now I go out on my bike and cycle on the seafront and before I know it, I’ve done 11 miles. ‘What I love most about Slimming World is that you don’t have to be embarrassed about loving food – it’s not a diet, it’s a way of life.’ Carole was awarded Slimming World’s Woman of the Year 2011 having lost 19st and 10lbs. For more information about Slimming World go to or call 0844 897 8000.

How to lose weight
There are many ways to shed extra pounds, whether it’s cutting down on calories or opting for surgery

Healthy lifestyle Average-sized people balance the amount of food they eat with how much energy they use up daily. To maintain a healthy weight, the recommended daily calorie intake is 1,940 per day for women and 2,550 for men. The most obvious weight solution is to reduce the amount of calories you eat, cutting down on saturated fat and sugar and aiming to lose 1/2kg-1kg (1-2lb) per week. Try to do 30 minutes of moderate exercise five days a week, too. If you are very overweight, speak to your GP before exercising.

The surgical route

Weight-loss surgery – or bariatric surgery – can reverse the risk of weight-related diseases. It can give those with a BMI of 40 or more, or a BMI of 35-40 in the case of patients with certain medical conditions, a new lease of life. There are two approaches: restrictive and malabsorptive.

Gastric bypass – This technique is the most common form of malabsorptive bariatric surgery.
What’s involved? A small pouch is created at the top of the stomach, and part of the intestine is grafted to the top of the pouch so food bypasses the stomach and intestine. This means less food is required to satisfy your appetite, and fewer calories are absorbed overall.
Benefits: You feel full more quickly and for longer, and there is a dramatic initial weight loss. Once you have recovered from the operation and have adjusted your eating habits, you can enjoy a healthy diet.
Disadvantages and risks: You’ll need to take vitamin supplements as your bowel absorbs less effectively than it would have before surgery.

Gastric band – Food intake is restricted using an adjustable band but your food absorption is not affected.
What’s involved? A hollow, adjustable, silicone band is placed around the stomach. This divides the stomach into a small upper pouch above the band and a larger pouch below the band. The small pouch limits the amount of food that a patient can eat and will result in a feeling of fullness after eating a small amount.
Benefits: About 50-60% of excess weight is lost within five years of having the operation, which means the risk of Type 2 diabetes is reduced, high blood pressure and cholesterol levels go down, and mobility and sleeping patterns are restored. The procedure is fully reversible.
Disadvantages and risks: The risks are small but potential complications include band slippage, tube rupture, abscesses and infection.

Gastric balloon – Also known as the intragastric balloon procedure, this surgery is less permanent than having a gastric band fitted. It generally works best for patients who want an intense period of fast weight loss.
What’s involved? A balloon is placed on the end of an endoscope, which is inserted into your stomach via your mouth. Liquid or air is then pumped into the balloon so it partially fills the stomach. This creates a feeling of fullness. The balloon is usually removed after six months.
Benefits: You lose weight easily because the capacity for food in your stomach is restricted by the balloon, and it only requires a local anaesthetic with no stay hospital stay.
Disadvantages and risks: Balloon deflation or bowel obstruction are rare but possible.

This article was first published in at home’s ’Ask the Doctor with Dr Chris Steele’ in Sept 2012. [Read the digital edition here]

Picture credit: Shutterstock

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