Medically reviewed by:
Dr Dan Bunstone - Medical Officer
What is obesity?
Obesity is huge issue worldwide. In its 2017 Health at a Glance report, The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) said that the UK is the most obese nation in Western Europe, and that obesity rates have doubled over the past twenty years, with 63% of adults now classed as overweight.
Obese children and adults have an increased risk of health problems, which is mainly due to the added stress on the body from excess weight. The more overweight you are, the more at risk your health is. These problems can include type two diabetes, liver disease, osteoarthritis and cardiovascular disease. Obesity is also a major risk factor in many cancers, such as breast cancer.
Obesity can be caused by different things, but the main cause is the modern lifestyle that involves highly available, high calorie food and low levels of exercise. But increasingly, it’s becoming apparent that it’s not a simple case of eating less or exercising more.
If you’re struggling with obesity and can’t lose weight, then our doctors are here to help.
The effects of obesity will depend on how much excess weight you have. The symptoms of obesity can be both psychological and physical, and common things to look out for include:
Obesity has traditionally been classified by your Body Mass Index (BMI). A ‘healthy’ BMI is 20-25, an overweight BMI 25-30 and obesity is classed as a BMI over 30. Your BMI is a calculation of your height and weight and is probably unfair to people with lots of muscle. There are several methods that are thought to be more accurate in diagnosing obesity, such as the waist to hip ratio.
In practice, GPs tend to use Body Mass Index (BMI) as the main indicator, but will often consider your build – for example, are you tall and skinny or short and muscular? The circumference of the waist and your BMI will usually be used to determine if you are obese.
Are certain people more susceptible to obesity?
Obesity can affect people of all ages. However, there are certain lifestyle choices and some medical conditions that can affect your weight.
If you do not exercise regularly and your diet contains a lot of high calorie or fast food items, you are more likely to become obese or have a problem with your weight.
There are also medical conditions that can cause obesity. For example, if you have an underactive thyroid, you are more at risk of gaining weight, although medication can help to control the condition.
What can cause obesity?
There are a number of different things that can cause obesity, including:
What you eat
If you eat too many calories or too much food high in fat or sugar and do not burn it off, it will cause you to gain weight. If this applies to you, then you should try to eat a healthy diet with the aim of weight loss.
Our doctors can help you tackle your unhealthy diet, or refer you for specialist help if needed.
Not getting enough exercise
If you are not getting enough exercise, you’re more likely to be overweight or obese.
The Department of Health recommends that adults should partake in at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity every week - this could be brisk walking or cycling. Alternatively, you should aim for 75 minutes of vigorous intensity activity each week, which includes running, swimming or playing football.
Weight gain can be a side effect of stopping smoking. However, this isn’t a reason to start smoking again! Instead, make sure you are eating a healthy diet and exercising as regularly as you can. You should find both of these things easier and more enjoyable now that you have successfully stopped smoking.
You can inherit a tendency to overeat from your parents, or you may learn bad eating habits from them. However, most people can still lose weight if they implement a healthy diet and exercise regime.
Certain medications can cause you to gain weight, including corticosteroids and antidepressants.
Medical conditions and obesity
There are also some medical conditions that can cause you to gain weight:
Hypothyroidism (an underactive thyroid gland) means your body cannot produce enough hormones, which help regulate your weight. Common signs of this include tiredness and depression along with weight gain. If you have an underactive thyroid gland then this can be treated successfully with hormone replacement tablets.
Insulin resistance and obesity are closely linked, because if your body cannot allow glucose into your cells like it should when you are sensitive to insulin, it turns it into fat instead.
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
Hormonal imbalances can lead to weight gain, overeating and can also make it more difficult to lose weight.
This is a genetic disorder, and one of the symptoms is overeating, which can lead to obesity. Other symptoms include learning difficulties and behavioural problems.
Cushing’s syndrome (hypercortisolism) is caused by having very high levels of a hormone called cortisol in the body. The symptoms of this condition include weight gain, muscle or bone weakness, thinning skin, bruising easily, a low sex drive and purple-reddish stretch marks on the stomach, thighs, arms, legs, buttocks or breasts.
What should you do if you are worried about obesity?
If you are overweight or obese and want to lose weight, it’s a good idea to see a doctor as they can advise you on how to start tackling the problem.
At Push Doctor, you can see a GP online on any device even while you are at home, so you don’t need to visit a public health care centre. They can go through any issues you may have, listen to your symptoms and suggest the right treatment to help you tackle obesity and the problems it's causing you.
You can see a GP about your obesity at a time that fits into your daily routine. Our doctors are available 7 days a week and can offer you the advice, diagnosis and treatment you may need. They can also refer you to a specialist for further help or tests if needed.
Not getting enough exercise?
If you are not getting enough exercise, you’re more likely to be overweight or obese. To put this into context, suppose you are consuming 3000 calories per day, but through daily activity you only burn 2500 calories, leaving a surplus of 500 calories every day. Over the week, that equates to a surplus of 3500 calories per week, which will result in an increased body weight of 1 pound per week. Over a long period of time, you can start to see how people become overweight or obese in the first place.
Physical inactivity is an increasing problem in the UK. Public Health England state that nearly a quarter of adults report being physically inactive, meaning that they do less than 30 minutes of exercise over a week.
Through increased physical activity you can burn more calories, allowing you to use the calories you are consuming for energy – maintaining your body weight, or burn more calories that you are consuming – putting you in a calorie deficit and allowing you to lose weight. A lot of people will want to lose body fat and maintain or increase muscle mass. If this is your goal, it is important for you to perform resistance training as well as consume adequate protein.
Getting more exercise
As you become more active, maybe through brisk 10-minute walks three times a day, you may look to progress your physical activity. Other things you might like to try include the Couch to 5k, or attending community lead Park Runs at the weekend. Regular monitoring, setting achievable goals and being active with your family and friends will help you reap the benefits of a healthy lifestyle.
Getting more active doesn’t always have to be as structured as the programmes already mentioned, though. Do things you enjoy or figure out ways in which you can become more active at home, at work and while you are out and about. Here are some more ideas of how you can get more active:
Getting off the bus a few stops earlier or get on a few stops later, so you have to walk further
Taking the stairs rather than the lift
Walking the dog
Playing outside with your children, grandchildren, nephews or nieces
Fitting a brisk walk into your lunch break
A walking meeting/phone call whilst at work
It’s important to recognise that the aim is to change your habits and live a healthier lifestyle. You should look to seek the advice of healthcare professionals who will offer support, guidance and encouragement throughout your journey. You may also look to change the way you think about food and eating by getting some supplementary psychological advice from a trained professional.