Why obesity is such a big problem

Prevalence of Obesity in the UK

The UK is grappling with a serious obesity epidemic, according to recent data from the National Health Service (NHS). Alarmingly, almost two-thirds of adults in the country are classified as overweight or obese, with 63.8% of adults having a body mass index (BMI) of 25 or higher. The situation is even more dire among men, with 67.0% of them being overweight or obese, compared to 60.3% of women. The NHS data is similarly concerning when it comes to childhood obesity, with approximately one in five children starting primary school in England being overweight or obese, rising to one in three by the time they leave.

The health risks of being overweight or obese

Being overweight or obese increases the risk of several health problems. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the health risks associated with being overweight or obese include:

  • Cardiovascular diseases: Overweight and obesity are major risk factors for cardiovascular diseases, such as heart attack and stroke (WHO, 2019).
  • Type 2 diabetes: Overweight and obesity are leading causes of type 2 diabetes (NHS, 2021).
  • Musculoskeletal disorders: Obesity can lead to joint problems and osteoarthritis (WHO, 2019).
  • Some cancers: Overweight and obesity are associated with an increased risk of several types of cancer, including breast, colon, and kidney cancer (NHS, 2021).
  • Sleep apnea: Obesity is a major risk factor for sleep apnea, a condition that causes a person to stop breathing for short periods during sleep (WHO, 2019).
  • Mental health problems: Obesity can lead to low self-esteem, depression, and anxiety (NHS, 2021).

The benefits of a healthy lifestyle

A healthy lifestyle can provide several benefits for physical and mental health. According to the National Health Service (NHS), the benefits of a healthy lifestyle include:  

  • Improved physical health: A healthy lifestyle can reduce the risk of developing several health problems, such as heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers (NHS, 2021).
  • Better mental health: A healthy lifestyle can improve mood, reduce stress and anxiety, and increase overall well-being (NHS, 2021).
  • Increased energy and improved sleep: Regular physical activity, a balanced diet, and proper sleep can help increase energy levels and improve the quality of sleep (NHS, 2021).
  • Improved cognitive function: A healthy lifestyle can improve brain function, memory, and concentration (NHS, 2021).
  • Increased longevity: Adopting a healthy lifestyle can increase life expectancy and reduce the risk of early death (NHS, 2021).

The risks of an unhealthy lifestyle

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), an unhealthy diet and lack of physical activity are two of the main causes of non-communicable diseases (NCDs), which are responsible for the majority of deaths worldwide (WHO, 2019).

A diet high in processed and high-fat foods can increase the risk of heart disease and stroke, while a lack of physical activity can lead to obesity and increase the risk of type 2 diabetes (National Health Service [NHS], 2019).

In the UK, it is estimated that up to 80% of cases of type 2 diabetes can be prevented through lifestyle changes, such as maintaining a healthy diet and being physically active (NHS, 2019).

Similarly, in the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that a healthy lifestyle can reduce the risk of developing heart disease by up to 80% (CDC, 2019).

Want to learn more about obesity?

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Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (2019). Heart disease facts. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/facts.htm

Department of Health and Social Care. (2021). Adult obesity and type 2 diabetes in England. Retrieved from https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/adult-obesity-and-type-2-diabetes-in-england/adult-obesity-and-type-2-diabetes-in-england

Harvard Health Publishing. (2021). The health benefits of a healthy lifestyle. Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/the-health-benefits-of-a-healthy-lifestyle

National Health Service (NHS). (2021). Health risks of being overweight. Retrieved from https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/healthy-weight/health-risks-of-being-overweight/

National Health Service (NHS). (2019). Type 2 diabetes. Retrieved from https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/type-2-diabetes/

National Health Service (NHS) UK. (2021). Overweight and obesity. Retrieved from https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/obesity/

World Health Organization (WHO). (2019). Overweight and obesity. Retrieved from https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/overweight-and-obesity

World Health Organization (WHO). (2021). Physical activity. Retrieved from https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/item/physical-activity

World Health Organization (WHO). (2019). Non-communicable diseases. Retrieved from https://www.who.int/health-topics/non-communicable-diseases/#tab=tab_1

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