In England, one quarter of the population is now clinically obese. Current trends suggest the problem is only going to get worse. Diabetes, heart disease, strokes and other nasty diseases go with obesity. Obesity is a death sentence.
The National Obesity Forum says that our obesity problem could be worse than we think.
“People may be unaware that they have a problem with their weight. It is now evident that people under-estimate their weight. We have introduced a term for this, ‘normalisation’. That is where obese people think they may be a little overweight and overweight people think they are healthy.”
Obesity in Men
The people who are most in denial are men. Obesity levels are similar between the sexes. Women, however, are in the majority in trying to do something about it. This might be down to women experiencing more societal pressure about their body image. This is not always a positive thing, but it might be working for them here.
“It may be the case that a woman looks in a mirror and perceives herself as overweight or out of shape. A man might look in a mirror and think how well-developed or great he looks. We need to find ways to address weight as a health risk factor in groups that do not appreciate it. That may have to include targetting men being in a different way.”
Men are not ignorant of the dangers of obesity. They know that carrying some extra weight will increase the risk of a heart attack. They know it can cause a stroke. If they knew the whole truth perhaps they would be a little less sanguine. Researchers at Harvard University have been looking at the causes of avoidable cancer deaths. They predict that obesity will surpass smoking as the leading cause within the next 15 years.
“Patients will accept a certain degree of risk when it comes to lifestyle. This is part of human nature, especially if they currently feel fit and well. We might be tempted to go skiing and accept the potential risk of a broken bone or twisted muscle. Our health is no different. Few will know, though, that obesity is associated with causing or worsening over 50 co-morbidities. These range from lung conditions, arthritis and gout, to skin problems and cancer.”
Damage caused by Obesity
To understand the damage that obesity can wreak, you have to look under the skin. The term ‘overweight’ seems relatively harmless. White fat fills up the gaps between vital organs. It compresses them and deposits chemicals that affect normal hormonal function. Seriously overweight people are always short of breath. The fat is crushing their lungs and diaphragm.
A lesser known by-product of obesity is liver disease. It is the third most common cause of death for people under 65. Excess alcohol is the big problem in Britain. In America, though, non-alcohol related fatty liver disease (NAFLD) has supplanted it. The British Liver Trust says,
“The majority of people with NAFLD are overweight. A build-up of fats called triglycerides causes an excess of fat in the liver. High amounts of these are found in foods high in fat and sugar.”
There has been a 400% increase in cases of liver disease over the last 40 years. There has also been a 900% rise in the number of cases of NAFLD treated in Britain over a 28-year period.
What can we do?
Eat less and move more is the conventional answer for the individual. But as a social and political issue obesity creates some complex questions. Obesity is on the rise because modern life has taken us out of balance, and our eating habits have not yet adapted.
There is talk of controlling the media and the right to levy sugar taxes, or ban foods. But the answers are nowhere near as draconian. A rebalancing away from prevention to actual treatment of the obese is the simple answer. Public health messages need to be more bloody in line with anti-smoking campaigns.
“We need an emphasis on adult obesity. Focusing on child obesity without addressing their home environment is futile. If we can treat adult obesity successfully we will not have childhood obesity to worry about.”
It is a challenge we all need to accept; to stop gaping at fat people, and hold up a mirror to our own modest spread.
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Image Credit: Flickr/Sandra Cohen-Rose and Colin Rose (Creative Commons)
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