Leading Medical Expert Breaks Down Obesity Myths
National Obesity Awareness Week – 11 – 17th January 2021
Currently, nearly two-thirds of UK adults are classed as overweight, with more than a quarter deemed obese. The proportion of people who are overweight rises as they get older, peaking in the mid-50s to mid-60s, but not everyone understands the truth about this condition and, given our current circumstances, New Victoria Hospital’s resident Consultant Bariatric, Upper Gastrointestinal and Laparoscopic Surgeon Professor Marcus Reddy is keen to debunk some of the myths surrounding it.
It’s normal to start the year with a health and fitness drive but, as we settle into Lockdown 3 (with the absence of gyms, support of buddies and being stuck at home for both work and leisure activities), sedentary behaviours and fatigue sets in, which, in turn, could lead people to put overt focus on their size and weight.
“No-one intentionally becomes overweight”
“Lockdown has been a trying time for many people,” states Professor Reddy. “As we begin the New Year, people are experiencing a juxtaposition of emotions ranging from positive thoughts to anxiety on how to improve our health by losing weight. No matter how you feel about your body, it’s better to focus on a balanced approach to health with measured longer-term changes in diet and exercise as a routine rather than focusing on weight targets, looks and size.”
“Tackling obesity is difficult when food is central to our culture,” he added. “We celebrate and commiserate with food. Added to this is the fact that high calorie foods are readily available. No one intentionally becomes overweight and there should be no blame or taboo. It is an insidious disease that can affect anyone and we should approach this condition with the same attention and compassion as we do for any other.”
Addressing obesity can also be confusing as there are commonly-held myths surrounding it:
Myth 1: Obesity is mostly caused by poor diet and lack of exercise.
Many of us buy into this myth. “Exercise is good for fitness but not helpful when used solely for weight loss due to the intense exercise required to burn off calories,” explains Professor Reddy. “Our foods have become more calorie dense and our personal “set point” leads us to gain weight effortlessly.” Lack of sleep, stress, other medication and intergenerational effects are all major contributing factors, too.
Myth 2: Obesity is only seen in ‘bigger’ people
Many of us assume that physical size is the only indicator of obesity but Professor Reddy is keen to stress that this isn’t the case. “You don’t necessarily have to be big to be obese as it’s the large deposits of fat around vital organs that is a huge concern and not always visible on the outside.” He also highlights the fact that the calculation of Body Mass Index (BMI) isn’t always the most accurate measure: “The ratio of weight to height is a crude measure. It is important to personalise how we assess obesity risks on body fat distribution and composition. Genetics including ethnicity should be taken into consideration.”
Myth 3: Gaining weight is not normal
Many of us worry that even slight fluctuations in weight are ‘bad’ thanks to the image-orientated diet culture we live in. According to Professor Reddy, there are many factors that can cause a fluctuation in weight, all of which are normal. “Weight fluctuations occur with age, hormonal changes and seasonally. It requires ongoing vigilance and focus to ensure that excessive weight gain is controlled.”
Myth 4: Obesity = lack of will power
Prone to self-criticism, many of us buy into this myth but Professor Reddy highlights the other psychological and physiological factors at play – many of which are subconscious: “This is not true. Most of us have a higher set point in weight, appetite and satiety that, without attention, we would drift towards. It is a neurohormonal control mechanism that favours a weight that is often higher than is beneficial in the long term.”
When to seek help
Professor Reddy concludes: “People suffering from obesity are at risk of complications from Coronavirus. In addition, being obese is also linked to a higher risk of other conditions, from heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and cancer, to problems during pregnancy and joint pain.
People living with or worried about obesity need to look for support to make changes and take advice when needed. A short-term approach will not lead to long term success.”
Obesity Care at New Victoria Hospital
New Victoria Hospital offers a range of services for people who are worried about or living with obesity. This includes an assessment of dietary habits from dieticians. This is the first step to understanding where many of the concealed calories come from. Endocrinologists are consulted when unexplained factors are involved. Finally, the obesity experts can advise on targeted changes, medications to support the change and procedures or interventions such as temporary gastric balloons or operations in some circumstances.