Everything you need to know about obesity
The number of people who are obese increases year upon year in the UK, but exactly what is obesity? What causes obesity? You may be wondering, am I obese? What’s the difference between being overweight and being obese?
Healthcare Pro are here to help answer some of these questions, as well as explore obesity symptoms, treatments for obesity and what it’s like to live with obesity. We hope you find this guide useful.
If a person is ‘obese’, it means they carry more weight than is classified as healthy, and they may have a lot of fat on their body. Being overweight can lead to a person being more at risk of developing other health conditions such as some forms of cancer, arthritis, coronary heart disease, diabetes and stroke. Living with obesity can cause multiple problems, including difficulties with mobility, and can affect a person’s lifespan.
There is generally considered to be an obesity epidemic in the Western world, including the UK where adult obesity statistics show that 26 out of every 100 adults is obese, with 3 of these being morbidly obese. Men are more likely to be obese than women, and obesity is most prevalent in the age group 55-64 years. Obesity is also more common amongst the most deprived groups in the country. Additionally, childhood obesity is an increasing problem in society, with 10% of boys aged 4-5, and approximately 20% of 10-11 year olds being obese.
Obesity is measured in terms of body mass index (BMI) which uses your height and weight to determine whether or not you are in a healthy weight range. If your BMI is between 25 and 29.9, you are overweight, and if it is between 30 and 39.9, you are obese. If you are wondering, am I overweight? You may wish to use the NHS BMI Calculator.
Obesity and being overweight is caused by a build-up of body fat, which occurs due to eating too much food or eating foods that are high in calories, and not moving the body enough to burn off the excess calories. On average, a woman needs to consume around 2000 calories per day, and a man needs around 2500, however, this will differ from person to person depending on how active they are.
Excess body fat and being overweight happens gradually, and it takes years for a person to become obese. The dietary causes of obesity may include:
• Eating too much saturated fat i.e. in fatty meat, processed foods, baked goods, full fat dairy (cream, cheese, whole milk), takeaways and fast foods, ‘junk food’ (crisps, sweet foods)
• Eating too much sugar i.e. biscuits, sweets, chocolate, fizzy drinks, fruit juice, ice cream, milkshake
• Drinking too much alcohol, which contains lots of calories
• Eating too much i.e. larger portion sizes
There are lots of reasons why people may have poor dietary habits that lead to becoming overweight or obese. For example, some people eat for comfort rather than to satisfy hunger. Some people may have grown up in a family that did not eat a healthy diet. Some people eat out at restaurants or have lots of take-away food and ready meals because they feel they have little time to cook or are unable to cook. Many people are unaware of the risks of becoming overweight or obese, and how this may affect their life and health, and do not understand nutrition. Some people are more likely to have issues with weight gain than others. Genetics may also play a part.
If you need more information on what a healthy diet is, download the Eatwell Guide or speak to your GP.
Not getting enough exercise may also be what causes obesity. As a society, we are increasingly more sedentary which, coupled with an unhealthier diet, is causing the obesity epidemic. Exercise and keeping the body active rather than sitting or lying down, helps burn calories and use up energy from food, helping to reduce the amount of fat stored in cells, and thus reduce overall body fat and body mass.
Childhood obesity is caused by similar factors as adult obesity, and children are more likely to be overweight or obese when:
• They eat unhealthily
• The family eats unhealthily
• There’s a lack of physical activity
• They sit down a lot, watching TV/playing video games/screen time
Occasionally, if a child is overweight or obese, this may be due to hormonal problems or other conditions. Some children who have autism or learning disability may have issues with their weight and are more likely to be obese than children without these conditions, but it’s not clear yet why this is the case. It may be due to misunderstanding hunger feelings, habitual eating, picky eating (only liking high fat or high sugar foods) or even caused by genetic factors.
Here we describe the most common symptoms of obesity including difficulties affecting everyday life as well as more serious health problems that may occur as a result of being obese. Everyone will experience obesity differently.
Obesity causes lots of fairly minor ailments and problems that can increase a person’s discomfort and affect their overall sense of wellbeing, day to day. These obesity symptoms may include:
• Feeling out of breath
• Sweating a lot
• Snoring – due to fatty tissue around the head and neck area
• Fatigue – carrying heavy weight around uses a lot of energy, so overweight or obese people may feel tired a lot, which becomes a vicious cycle of then moving even less due to feeling tired
• Joint pain and back ache – a heavier body puts more strain on joints and muscles
• Mobility difficulties – some people find it harder to get around due to aches and pains from being obese, or due to having a heavier body weight and large body size, which affects how the body moves
• Psychological problems, such as low self-esteem, anxiety and depression
• Stretch marks and other visual signs
• Fertility or reproductive issues i.e. irregular or absent periods in women, inability to conceive
• Loss of libido (sex drive)
These obesity symptoms can take their toll on a person’s life, but there are potentially more serious obesity symptoms as well, many of which are health conditions such as:
Being obese or overweight is proven to raise blood cholesterol and increase blood pressure, which both put a person at high risk of developing heart-related problems i.e. developing heart disease or having a heart attack. Similarly, high cholesterol and blood pressure can increase the risk of stroke. Obesity can ultimately reduce a person’s lifespan and cause early death, but there are ways to reverse obesity and lose weight, which will lessen obesity symptoms.
If you think your child may be overweight or obese, it’s important to have their weight checked by a GP. Childhood obesity symptoms, apart from the obvious visual signs such as too much body fat, may include any or all of the symptoms of obesity in adults, as discussed above.
If you are concerned about your weight and feel that you may be overweight or obese, it is best to make an appointment with your GP. They can work out your BMI and carry out health checks such as taking your blood pressure, and arranging a blood test to check cholesterol and glucose levels, to get a good overall picture of your health. If they are concerned about your weight, they will discuss treatments for obesity with you.
If your GP has given you an obesity diagnosis, you may feel a mix of emotions. However, there are many ways to lose weight, reduce your obesity risks and feel healthier, and we discuss treatments for obesity here.
The main treatment for obesity that is likely to be recommended to you is to lose weight by adopting a healthier lifestyle, including improving your diet, reducing the amount of calories consumed and increasing your exercise. There is no obesity treatment in the form of a pill that can cure your obesity – it is down to lifestyle changes and dedication.
A healthy diet for obesity is likely to consist of:
• Lots of fruit and vegetables
• Wholegrain bread, rice and pasta
• Protein-rich meat, eggs, fish, and beans
• Small amounts of dairy
• Small/reduced amounts of high fat and high sugar foods
• Small/reduced amounts of unsaturated, ‘good’ fats e.g. nuts, avocados etc.
• Small/reduced amounts of salt
• Smaller/reduced portion sizes
Generally, safe weight loss is in the region of 2lb each week (1kg), which means reducing the amount of calories eaten by around 500-600 each day.
This can be achieved in simple ways, such as:
• Reducing or stopping the consumption of fizzy, sugary drinks and drinking water instead
• Reducing extra sugar added to things like cereals and hot drinks
• Cooking food from scratch rather than eating ready meals or take-away foods
• Swapping biscuits, crisps and sweets for healthier snacks
• Filling up on healthier foods such as vegetables
Your GP or nurse is likely to be able to help support you to lose weight and help you keep track of your weight loss, ensuring you are losing weight safely and at a good rate. You may be able to attend local weight loss groups.
Some people feel that healthy food is more expensive and that they cannot afford to buy foods such as vegetables, fruit and meat, but there are ways to eat well on a budget. There is also a wealth of online inspiration and information on healthy eating.
If you are diagnosed as obese by a GP or if you’ve ascertained that you are obese or overweight through calculating your BMI, you should explore options for increasing the amount of activity or exercise you do each day. This can be difficult to do on your own, so we advise seeing a GP for advice before you embark on an obesity exercise programme. You could also consider seeing a physiotherapist, who may be able to devise an obesity treatment plan to suit your needs. A physiotherapist may also be able to help provide treatments for obesity problems such as mobility difficulties, or musculoskeletal conditions such as arthritis or back pain.
Becoming more active when you are obese or overweight can seem difficult and may cause initial discomfort or even pain, but it is possible and it is essential to your short and long-term health. Starting off slowly and gradually increasing your activity levels is the best way forward, and as you start to lose weight through healthy eating and a little exercise, you will be able to do more and more. Even small changes can make a big difference, so increasing the amount you move around each day can help. Easy ways to start may include:
• Walking a little more, even just around the garden
• Exercising (moving) your arms or legs whilst sitting down
• Taking the stairs if you are able
• Standing up rather than sitting down all the time
The more you move your body, the more able your body will become, and you should start to see results in your weight loss challenge.
The NHS provides a weight loss plan that may help you.
Children who are obese do not need to do more physical activity than other children their age, because they are likely to burn more calories doing the same amount of activity as children who are an average weight. Most children who are generally healthy, should be able to do around an hour’s worth of physical activity throughout the day, broken up into smaller amounts of time. Any moving around counts, such as riding a bike, kicking a ball, dancing, walking, or playing chase. If your child is obese, setting a good example is one of the best ways you can encourage them to be more active. The NHS offers lots of advice to parents concerned about obese children.
Bariatric surgery or weight loss surgery may be an available treatment for obesity where a person is unable to lose weight through diet and exercise. There are three main types of bariatric surgery which all aim to reduce the amount of food a person is able to comfortably consume, and they all come with significant risks:
These are not an alternative to eating a healthy diet or exercising and, after surgery, a person must stay committed to improving their lifestyle to ensure they stay at a healthy weight. To learn more about weight loss surgery, visit the Gastric Guru website. Some people benefit greatly from this surgery – read about one case study here.
Receiving a diagnosis of obesity causes a mix of emotions for many people. You may feel worried about your health and the prospect of trying to lose weight. You may feel frustrated, sad or angry that your weight has become a problem, or you may feel that being overweight is not an issue to you. Whatever emotions you are feeling, it is important to remember that obesity causes health problems, so tackling your weight is essential to help ensure you do not develop any health conditions, or to help you manage ones you currently have.
Obesity is likely to affect a person’s life and day to day activities. Many people who are obese are able to enjoy their life. Some people who are obese may have issues with overeating and may find getting around is difficult or uncomfortable. They may also feel they are unable to do some things that they need to do or want to do. For example, being extremely overweight can make it difficult to do some chores, dress, wash, walk for long periods and sit or lie comfortably. Everybody experiences obesity differently.
If you are advised to lose weight and decide to embark on a healthier lifestyle in order to do so, this will inevitably affect your daily life. It may require a change of mind-set, tackling mental blocks and long-standing thoughts about eating. It may require changing the way you eat and cook. It may be mentally, physically and emotionally challenging.
Sometimes, it can help to read about other people’s experiences of being obese, to realise that you are not alone.
Eating a healthy, balanced diet is important for everybody, and if you have been given a diagnosis of obesity or if you believe you are obese and want to lose weight to become healthier, changing your diet is essential.
The NHS website provides lots of healthy eating information, recipes and weight loss advice you may find helpful.
There are lots of weight loss programmes that you can pay for nowadays, available from private companies such as Slimming World, Weight Watchers, Slim Fast and many more you may or may not have heard of. It’s important to have a discussion with your GP before embarking on any of these, because they may not be suitable for you depending on any existing healthcare conditions you have. They may also require you to make changes that are too drastic for your current weight which would put more stress on your body. Eating a balanced diet is most important, and many people will see results this way, rather than paying to follow a certain diet plan.
Some people who are concerned about their weight decide to take vitamin and mineral supplements for obesity. There are lots of these on the market but mostly they are not proven to have a positive effect on weight loss, and so we recommend you discuss with your GP before taking any obesity supplements, as they may cause side effects or affect other medications you may be taking.
Starting an obesity exercise regime is sometimes difficult. Being overweight can cause strain on your joints and muscles, which may be uncomfortable or painful if you’re exercising. It’s important to start off slowly and progress gradually, to give your body time to adjust and to ensure you don’t injure yourself.
Remember though that exercise or moving your body more is essential to losing weight and feeling healthier. Exercise boosts endorphins that make you feel good whilst helping your organs to function better, including your heart and brain. Exercise also lowers your blood pressure and helps you to burn calories and fat.
Obesity exercises do not have to involve sprinting around the block, they simply need to involve moving. The Let’s Get Moving website offers inspiration and useful ways to plan your activity and track your achievements. A combination of healthy eating and moving more is likely to help you lose weight, reduce obesity symptoms and help with any existing medical conditions.
Living with obesity can be difficult at times and an obesity diagnosis can be hard to deal with. Obesity is a complex issue, and being overweight may be as much a mental problem as it is a physical one. What we eat, how we eat and our feelings towards food are tied up with many social, cultural and psychological processes. Our knowledge of food, our eating habits and diets are heavily influenced by our upbringing, family life, education, level of affluence, emotions and state of mind. Obesity can cause mental health problems such as anxiety and depression, and mental health problems can influence our weight.
The charity Mind provides information about all aspects of mental health as well as how food affects mood and healthy eating tips.
Some people may have issues with overeating or compulsive eating, and obesity caused by this may require more than simple diet and exercise changes. Overeaters Anonymous is a charity that support people who eat compulsively (or have other food related issues). Many eating disorder charities also provide support for people who feel they are emotionally overeating.
People who are overweight, obese or morbidly obese report that they feel a certain amount of stigma in society for being ‘bigger’. Many people say they are ‘fat shamed’ and feel isolated because of their size.
Daily living aid products can be useful for men and women who are obese or morbidly obese and have difficulties carrying out day to day tasks, due to disability or mobility problems. Many daily living aids from Healthcare Pro have high maximum user weight limits to accommodate people who are heavier, including equipment for bathing, toileting, getting in and out of bed, and much more.
PLEASE NOTE: our Expert Advice Service can only give advice about equipment and products which may help you to live more independently. They cannot give any advice on medications or treatments for symptoms of this condition.
Many people who are obese are able to work in many different types of jobs. Being obese may have an impact on a person’s job or the type of job they are able to do. Being a bigger size may cause issues to do with comfort, health and wellbeing at work. Some people report that they face stigma in their jobs due to being obese. If you are finding work difficult due to obesity, or need support from your employer, you may wish to talk to them to discuss this. You may also wish to tell them if you are undertaking a change in lifestyle, such a going on a diet or exercising, and if you have any other medical conditions that are affecting your ability to work.
We hope this guide to obesity has helped you understand more about what it is, what causes obesity and treatments for obesity. There is a wealth of advice and information available online, through various charitable organisations and the NHS. If you are overweight, obese or morbidly obese, you may find it useful to talk to other people who have similar issues with weight, to share your experiences and hear about what others are going through. Here, we point you to obesity support and weight loss support groups as well as other online resources that offer further information and advice.
Beat Eating Disorders – a charity supporting people with all sorts of eating issues, including overeating, offering helplines and online information
Blood Pressure UK – a charity organisation offering advice and information about how to lower your blood pressure, including lifestyle advice, real life stories and information on how to take your blood pressure reading
British Heart Foundation – leading UK charity campaigning for greater awareness of how to have a healthy heart, including factual information about how the heart works, risk factors for heart disease or heart conditions, how to change your lifestyle to decrease risk of heart problems, an online community to share experiences, and a helpline
British Obesity Society – a charity supporting people affected by obesity, featuring online recipes, tips and tools for weight loss
British Nutrition Foundation – information about healthy eating and healthy living
Cancer Research UK – information on obesity and cancer risks, how to lose weight and how to work out if you are overweight
Diabetes UK – information about the link between diabetes and obesity, with advice about lifestyle changes
Family Lives – advice if you are concerned your child is overweight, and how to deal with this
Heart UK – a charity campaigning for awareness of cholesterol and heart disease, providing information on how to lower cholesterol, conditions related to high cholesterol, and how to eat healthily
Mind – a charity supporting people with mental health problems and their families, including those experiencing anxiety, depression, low mood, etc, with lots of advice about coping and living with these conditions
National Obesity Forum – a charity that helps raise awareness of obesity and provides advice on lifestyle, diet, physical activity and childhood obesity
NHS – source of official medical advice and information about obesity, symptoms, treatments and living with the condition
Overeaters Anonymous – a charity that support people who eat compulsively (or have other food related issues)
Weight Concern – a wealth of information online to support people who need to lose weight, including healthy eating advice, activity suggestions, and self-help programmes and support groups
Although we always try to explain things as simply and as clearly as possible, sometimes it’s necessary to use the correct medical terminology. Medical terms are often known for being tricky to pronounce and if you’re not an expert in the subject, they can also be a little difficult to understand. Below, we’ve put together a list of terms used on this page along with a brief explanation of what they mean to help make your understanding of obesity as straightforward as possible.
– a disease where the arteries in the body have a build-up of fatty plaque on their interior, which causes issues with the flow of blood as the arteries become too narrow. This ultimately may cause a blockage of blood to the heart and brain, causing stroke and heart attack
– medicine related to treating obesity
– the measure of how hard your heart is beating to push blood around the body, which is taken to understand a person’s risk of potential ill health
Body mass index
– a medically approved chart that compares a person’s height and weight to ascertain if they are underweight, average weight, overweight or obese
– a term used to describe a unit of measurement that shows how much energy a particular food provides
– a fatty substance which the body needs a certain amount of to function, but which can become too high due to an intake of too much cholesterol in the diet, leading to clogged arteries and health conditions such as stroke or heart disease
– related to the genes a person has inherited from their parents, which determine how the body functions, health risks, and much more
– the amount of glucose in a person’s blood, which is a form of sugar from food that provides energy for the body, but which if too high or low can cause symptoms and which may be a sign of diabetes
– the name given to a combination of diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity, which may make you more likely to develop other serious health conditions
– fat found in foods such as cheese and butter, which contains high levels of cholesterol, and which should be limited in a healthy diet
– in terms of fat, unsaturated fat is a healthier type of fat found in foods such as oily fish, nuts, seeds, olive oil, avocados, etc, and a certain amount of this fat is required for a healthy diet