Over a billion people are believed to be officially obese. The British Medical Association says that by 2050, half of the population in England could be obese. From a health perspective, this spells trouble given all the problems that being overweight can lead to.
Being overweight or obese increases the risk of: type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, gall bladder disease and various types of cancer including breast cancer.
Obese children have a higher risk of premature death and disability in adulthood. They are more likely to suffer from breathing difficulties, fractures, high blood pressure (and other health problems linked to heart disease) as well as insulin resistance that could lead to type 2 diabetes.
The main cause of obesity is too much food, unhealthy food and too little exercise. Children are getting larger because they are eating too much of the wrong types of food for the small amount of physical activity they undertake (and it works the same way for adults).
Tummy fat (visceral fat) is a particular concern because it’s involved in a variety of health problems linked to heart disease and certain cancers.
Avoid being a tofi! (thin on the outside, fat on the inside). You don’t have to be overweight or obese to have high levels of visceral fat. Some slim people, who do little or no exercise, can have high levels. Stored up around vital organs, this type of fat can put apparently healthy people at risk.
In the BBC series, How To Stay Young, slim and outwardly fit 71-year old celebrity Angela Rippon discovered that while she had the muscle strength of a 40-year-old, her internal fat levels were dangerously high.
Diet and exercise can be very effective in helping reduce fat stores. A vegan diet rich in fibre (fruits, vegetables, pulses and wholegrains) helps. Replacing white bread, rice and pasta with wholemeal bread, brown rice and wholewheat pasta can help as can replacing saturated fats found in meat and dairy foods with polyunsaturated fats found in nuts, seeds and plant-based oils and spreads. Vegans tend to be a healthy weight; people who eat meat and dairy foods are much more likely to be obese. This is because of the high levels of unhealthy saturated fat found in meat, cheese and butter etc.
The World Health Organisation suggests eating more fruit, vegetables, nuts and wholegrains. They recommend physical activity (60 minutes a day for children and 150 minutes per week for adults) and suggest cutting down on fatty, sugary foods, moving from saturated animal-based fats to unsaturated vegetable-oil based fats. Going vegan is an easy way to lose weight and maintain a healthy weight.
Are you overweight or obese?
People with a body mass index (BMI) between 25-29 are categorised as overweight and those with BMI of 30 or above are categorised as obese. If your BMI is over 40, you would be described as morbidly obese. The UK government describes 18.5-25 as healthy and suggests that a BMI of less than 18.5 is underweight. See our BMI calculator.
Another useful method is to measure around your waist – people with waists measuring 94cm or more in men and 80cm or more in women may be more likely to develop obesity-related health problems.
Find out what you need to eat each day here.
See our Nutrition News on the topic.