Health conditions

Overweight and obesity

Overweight and obesity are terms used to describe ranges of weight that have been shown to increase a person’s risk of certain conditions and health problems.

Living with weight above what’s considered healthy, or a higher waist circumference increases your risk of developing chronic diseases including heart disease, type 2 diabetes and 13 types of cancer.

It also increases the risk of developing other health problems, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, stroke, joint problems such as gout, arthritis and joint pain, gall bladder disease, fatty liver disease, fertility problems, lower back pain and sleep problems including sleep apnea, eating disorders, negative body images, social isolation and discrimination.

Am I a healthy weight?

You can measure if you’re a healthy weight two simple ways:

While BMI provides a good estimate of body fat for most people, it may not be suitable for some groups such as athletes who have a muscular build, older people, and some ethnic groups.

To get a more in-depth health picture, book an appointment to see your General Practitioner (GP). They can look at other health markers like blood pressure and cholesterol and give you advice that is specific to your body and health.

What can cause overweight and obesity

There are many different inter-related factors that cause individuals to gain excess weight over time, some of these factors are listed below.

  • Food and drink. Discretionary foods and drinks that are high in fat, sugar and/or salt, provide little nutrition and more energy than the body needs, this may lead to excess weight gain and poor health.
  • Living an inactive lifestyle.
  • Obesity promoting ‘obesogenic’ environmental factors. The modern environment is one that makes it harder for people to be active enough, and to make healthy food and drink choices.
  • Poor nutrition, smoking, and gaining more than the recommended levels of weight during pregnancy can increase a child’s risk of becoming obese later in life. Being exclusively breastfed for at least six months can reduce a child’s risk of obesity in childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood.
  • Genes. Genetic factors may predispose some people to gain excess weight.

People living with overweight and obesity are frequently subjected to weight stigma. Experiences of weight stigma or weight bias can lead to other challenges, including:

  • bullying
  • mental health issues such as depression and anxiety
  • disordered eating
  • avoidance of physical activity and,
  • delays in seeking health care.

Weight bias can translate into discrimination and inequities in health care settings, educational settings, workplaces, and personal relationships. There is an urgent need to shift from blaming individuals for being overweight or obese to acknowledging the environmental and societal causes of obesity.

Environmental impacts

The environments in which we live, work and play can have an impact on our weight and health.

Our current environment has been called obesity-promoting, because it makes it harder to be active enough and make healthy food choices, for the following reasons:

  • Changes to the food supply have led to increased availability and promotion of cheap, processed foods which are high in energy and low in nutrients.
  • The portion size of many packaged foods and foods prepared outside the home has increased. The cost of these foods has also decreased when compared to healthier options.
  • Sedentary behaviours such as watching the television and using the computer and other electronic devices rather than getting out and being active.
  • More people now have desk jobs where they sit for most of the day.
  • Where people would once walk or cycle to get to places, many now travel by car.
  • More convenient lifestyles and devices like elevators and remote controls mean we use less energy.

You can contact your local government (external site) to find out how your neighbourhood is promoting health and wellbeing (external site).

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