Conference on Obesity – British Nutrition Foundation Summary of Findings
Obese people are at increased risk of heart disease, hypertension, non-insulin dependent diabetes, gallstones, osteoarthritis of weight bearing joints, sleep apnoea, reproductive disorders and some cancers. It is important that obesity is given more prominence as a risk factor for disease. Obesity is a reversible condition, and with careful attention to both prevention and treatment it should be possible to tackle this problem in the future.
Obesity Levels and Trends
Between 1980 and 1997, obesity increased in England from 6% to 17% in men and from 8% to 20% in women. The number of men and women who are now overweight is 62% and 53% respectively. The pattern throughout the UK is fairly similar, with little regional variation. Body Mass Index (BMI) increases with age in both men and women up to the age of 64 years, then decreases slightly in older age groups. The relationship between BMI and social class varies with gender. In women, BMI tends to be higher in the manual social classes than in the non-manual social classes. In men, the pattern is less clear. Further, an inverse association has been reported between educational attainment and BMI, particularly amongst women. Vegetarians have a lower BMI than omnivores, although this is likely to be due to factors other than the exclusion of meat from the diet.
Obesity Not Caused by Low Metabolic Rate
The ‘old myth’ that obesity occurs as a result of a low metabolic rate is unfounded. One of the few statements about obesity that can be made with absolute certainty is that obesity can only occur when energy intake remains higher than energy expenditure, for an extended period of time. In other words, where there is a chronic displacement of the energy balance equation (energy in minus energy out = change in body energy stores).
Key Obesity Factors – Calorie & Exercise
Environmental changes that have occurred over the last few years, such as a more sedentary lifestyle and the ready availability of energy dense foods, are the most likely underlying factors in the increasing prevalence of obesity. There are studies that have shown small differences in metabolism between obese subjects and their lean counterparts, but these differences are very subtle and are far outweighed by the impact of environmental influences and behavioural factors. A key strategy in tackling the rising prevalence of obesity must be education about the need for positive lifestyle changes. Health professionals should provide advice both for individuals and at a population level.
No Clear Link Btween Dietary Intakes and Obesity
Predisposition to obesity has often been associated with intakes of high-fat foods. There does seem to be an increased liking for high-fat foods in those predisposed to obesity, for example obese people, previously obese people, non-obese people with a high BMI, children of obese parents and restrained eaters. There is no clear relationship, however, between dietary intakes and obesity. Perhaps a more important area to consider in terms of prevention is the development of new strategies to promote an environment that is ‘user friendly’ in terms of activity. This will require action from government, local authorities and health authorities to provide affordable recreational facilities and safe environments for walking, jogging or cycling.
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Source: British Nutrition Foundation Conference on Obesity (May,1999)
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