Mild obesity is relatively harmless, but severe obesity can be dangerous to your health in the long term. It can cause both immediate day-to-day symptoms and longer-term health risks.
Symptoms of obesity include:
• shortness of breath,
• inability to sustain sudden exertion,
• excess tiredness every day, and
• leg-joint and back pains.
Long-term health risks include increased risk of:
• high blood pressure, heart disease and strokes
• high blood cholesterol
• breast cancer in women
• gallbladder disease
• reflux oesophagitis and its complications (the flowing of acid back up the gullet)
• arthritis of the back, hips, knees and ankles
• diabetes and poorer control of established diabetes
• polycystic ovary disease
• reduced life expectancy overall
Obesity is excess body fat for a given height and gender. It happens when more calories are taken into the body than are burnt up in a given period of time. Once adulthood is reached, everyone has a fairly steady rate of calorie burn-up, called the metabolic rate. This is higher in people who are regularly physically active. This means that someone who works in a very physical job, such as a building-site labourer, may need as many as 4000-5000 calories per day to keep an even weight. This contrasts with an office worker who uses a car and doesn't exercise, who may need only 1500 calories per day.
If calories in food energy are greater than the calories used every day, the excess energy is stored by the body as fat. This is important as a protection for the body against times of starvation. In developed countries, starvation is rare except in extreme circumstances, so this insurance against hard times is hardly ever needed. Food is plentiful, and a lot of available food is much higher in calories than the human body was originally designed to cope with. The result is that eating more than the body needs is easy. Obesity has become one of the most serious medical problems of the western world.
Obesity can be measured in different ways:
• An easy way is just to get on the scales and compare your actual weight with your ideal weight. Any calorie-counting book will give this information.
• A more scientific way is to calculate your Body Mass Index (BMI). This is your weight in kilograms divided by the square of your height in metres. In England, people with a body mass index between 25 and 30 are categorised as overweight, and those with an index above 30 are categorised as obese.
• Modern gyms and some weighing scales can electronically measure the percentage of your body weight that is fat, and can compare this with what would be ideal for you.
Calorie control is the least difficult treatment. There are two aspects to this:
• Use a food diary to record everything you eat and drink on a daily basis. Work out your average calorie intake and then cut out 500 calories per day from what you're eating. This doesn't amount to a big sacrifice, and you'll still be able to enjoy a range of food. The important thing is to be honest about what you're eating.
• Increase the amount of aerobic exercise you do. A rough guide is to do anything that makes you work hard for 30 minutes three times a week. You know you're working hard if you're panting and mildly sweating and have a raised heart rate. Check with your GP that any planned activity is safe for you. Find a way to exercise that you find enjoyable, as this will help you to stick with it.
No weight-loss programme should aim for a loss of more than 1 kilogram per week. Half a kilogram per week is quite respectable, and any weight-loss programme that claims a more rapid loss than this may be unhealthy.
Serious weight loss is a long-term commitment to yourself and it involves time and stamina. It may not be easy, but the results are very rewarding.