A recent review conducted by experts at Public Health England warned that people who are overweight or obese are at a much higher risk of hospitalisation or death due to Covid-19 than those with a healthy BMI.
In light of this, the government set out to make some changes and launched the Better Health campaign with the aim to ‘Get Britain Moving Again.’ The campaign – unveiled as part of the government’s new Obesity Strategy – encourages adults to make lifestyle changes that will help them work towards a healthier weight, with access to free tools and apps like the free 12-week NHS Weight Loss Plan app, which they hope will help people to make healthier food choices and learn skills to prevent weight gain.
Professor Kevin Fenton, London Regional Director at Public Health England, said: “COVID-19 has given us a wake-up call to get our health back on track. We know how hard it can be to lose weight and keep it off – our Better Health campaign aims to make it easier for everyone to introduce changes that will help them maintain a healthy weight. It’s never too late, or too early, to make changes that will have a lasting impact on your health.”
According to the NHS, obesity affects approximately one in four adults and one in five children aged between 10 and 11 in the UK.
Columbia University in New York just published study that revealed being obese in your twenties more than doubles the risk of dementia. Their study revealed that men and women who are obese between the ages of 20 and 49 are 2.5 times as likely to go on to develop dementia.
We asked Dr Rekha Tailor, former GP, cosmetic and weight-loss doctor about how obesity is defined and calculated, and what to do if you think you’re obese.
What does being obese mean?
“The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines the term ‘overweight’ and ‘obesity’ as being a person with an abnormal or excessive fat accumulation’ that presents a risk to health.
“Obesity is a very complex disorder that isn’t just a cosmetic concern — if a person is obese it can impact their health and mean that they are at greater risk of developing health conditions such as type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease and stroke as well as some forms of cancer.”
How is obesity calculated?
“The most basic method used to calculate obesity, and perhaps the most common, is the body mass index (BMI). If you think you may be overweight or underweight, doctors can calculate your BMI with a formula using your height and weight. To do this yourself at home there are BMI calculators available online.”
Should our BMI still be seen as important or is it an outdated tool to measure our health?
“BMI can be used as a screening tool and to this end is of importance and relevance. However, it does unfortunately have limitations. By simply using height and weight as a calculator it is not diagnostic of the body fatness or the health of an individual and we are therefore not able to distinguish between body fat and lean body mass or muscles.
“For instance, at the same BMI, women generally have more body fat than men. If you have questions about your BMI, talk with your health care provider who will be able to perform the appropriate health assessments in order to evaluate your health status and risks.”
Are there different levels of obesity?
“Your BMI can be broken down into different categories. A normal, healthy weight is generally a BMI between 18.5 and 24.9. If you are overweight your BMI will be above 25 and if you are classed as ‘obese’ your BMI is 30 or greater. People whose BMI is 40 or higher, are 100 pounds over their ideal weight or have a BMI over 35 with an obesity-related condition such as high blood pressure or type 2 diabetes can be classed as morbidly obese (or class 3 obesity). Being morbidly obese places people at a much higher risk for health problems than being overweight or obese.”
As a doctor, what do you think about the government’s obesity strategy?
“Tackling obesity at any time is crucial and can have a significant and positive impact on a person’s overall lifestyle. However, in light of the research surrounding Covid-19, it is more important than ever that we take a look at our diet and implement lifestyle changes that will improve our health. In the last week I’ve seen a huge upsurge in enquiries about the medical-grade weight loss products at our clinic, so I know that it’s a situation that is affecting a huge proportion of the population.”
What is the best treatment for obesity?
“Everyone is unique and so different plans and diets work well for some – and for others not at all. Do your research and find a diet and exercise plan that works for you, that you enjoy and fits well within your lifestyle. For instance, if you have a busy schedule you may suit short bursts of HIIT training in the evening alongside healthy meals in the day but for others they may wish to join a running club at the weekend with friends.
“Whilst I can understand that many obese people will be struggling mentally as a result of this possible increased risk, it’s important to remember the importance of using sensible, medically-approved methods of losing weight and not opting for more instant results which could be dangerous and unsustainable.”
What would be your top 5 recommendations for someone who thinks they are obese?
A healthy balanced diet
“A healthy balanced diet is a key factor to both achieving and maintaining a healthy weight. I would avoid extreme fad diets that promise weight loss which is too fast and therefore unhealthy and unsustainable. Ensuring you consume the right amounts of protein, vegetables and healthy grain in each meal and keeping an eye on portion control is key.”
“Any exercise is better than none. You don’t have to be running marathons to keep fit. Even just going for a brisk walk every day or doing a 20-minute online workout will help to ensure your cardiovascular system and muscles stay healthy and your weight under control.”
Address the real problem
“Many people who are overweight have got that way because of an underlying physical or mental problem. It’s always important to get to the root of this before trying to address the physical/aesthetic problem. We are fortunate to live in a time where there are also lots of ways in which we can support this both through cognitive therapy, counselling and nutrition aides.”
Ask the experts
“Despite the social pressures around obesity, there should be no shame in it. Similarly, there’s no shame in not being able to lose weight on your own. I would always advise people to seek medical advice before embarking on any diet plan. I often recommend a medical weight loss programme for my patients such as Medi-weight which offers a support network alongside the diet itself and also impress upon people the importance of trying not to give in to social pressures at what is already an extremely stressful time.”
“In an age where we are constantly being bombarded by images of stick-thin celebrities on TV and on social media, it’s easy to fall into the trap of feeling unhappy with our bodies and setting unrealistic weight targets. It’s crucial that you try to keep in your sights on a BMI that is healthy and realistic and you’re not trying to achieve the skeletal look of someone in the public eye.”
Make it fun
“People don’t often associate weight loss with enjoyment. But it should be. And in fact the more fun you make it the more likely you are to achieve your goals and maintain them. Although being in lockdown has seen the closure of gyms and fitness classes, it’s also resulted in a huge upsurge in online workouts and the coming together of people online to support each other. Try linking up with friends remotely to do it together, or taking part in group fitness classes online. Sometimes having to be accountable to a friend or family member helps to keep you focused and makes it seem less of a chore.”