How severe is the obesity crisis?

Alexandra Thompson
obese woman measuring her waist with a measuring tape against a white background
Nearly a third (29%) of adults in England were obese in 2017. [Photo: Getty]

Obesity is on the rise, with more and more people carrying dangerous amounts of weight.

In England alone, 29% of adults were classified as obese in 2017 - an 11% increase on just the year before, NHS Digital statistics show.

READ MORE: Children from the poorest parts of England are more than twice as likely to be obese

The US is also suffering, with obesity affecting 39.8% of adults in 2015/16, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Far from being trivial, 10,660 hospitalisations in England in 2017 were directly related to obesity, while 711,000 admissions had excess weight as a factor.

With the condition linked to everything from heart disease and stroke to type 2 diabetes and even certain cancers, obesity cost the US around $147bn (£112.8bn) in 2008 alone.

How does obesity affect health?

Obesity, defined as a BMI of 30 or above, is perhaps best known for its effect on our heart.

Carrying too much weight causes fatty cholesterol to build up in the arteries, which carry blood to the organs, according to the British Heart Foundation.

If these become clogged, it can lead to a heart attack.

Strokes occur if the brain misses out on oxygen-rich blood due to artery damage.

While most worry about the fat they can see, the “invisible” stuff that lurks around our internal organs is more risky.

Known as visceral fat, it raises cholesterol, increases blood pressure and leaves people at risk of type 2 diabetes.

Obesity is thought to be responsible for between 80% and 85% of type 2 diabetes cases, according to Diabetes.co.uk

Too much fat around the middle, a “muffin top”, may specifically raise the risk of type 2 diabetes by making it harder for the hormone insulin to control blood sugar levels.

This can cause high levels of glucose to circulate around the body, damaging arteries and raising the risk of heart disease.

Abdominal fat may also cause fat cells to release inflammatory chemicals that make the body less sensitive to insulin.

READ MORE: Asda to remove cartoon characters from cereal boxes to tackle childhood obesity

Research is also increasingly linking obesity to cancer.

The second biggest preventable cause of the disease in the UK, more than one in 20 cases can be pinned to excess weight, according to Cancer Research UK.

Obesity has specifically been linked to cancer of the breast, bowel, womb, food pipe, pancreas, kidney, liver, upper stomach, gallbladder, ovaries, thyroid, myeloma - a type of blood tumour - and meningioma - a brain tumour.

Fat cells are thought to make extra hormones and growth factors that “tell” the cells in our body to divide more often, Cancer Research UK reports.

This increases the risk cancer cells will be produced, which can continue to divide uncontrollably into a tumour.

As if all that wasn’t bad enough, obesity has also been linked to asthma, infertility, osteoarthritis, liver and kidney disease, and pregnancy complications to name a few.

Far from just being an adult issue, one in five children in year six - aged 10-to-11 - were obese in England in 2017.

In the US, 18.5% of youngsters and teenagers are said to suffer.

As well as raising their risk of all the above, obesity in childhood can lead to bullying, low self-esteem and greater odds of the condition in later life.

How to combat obesity

Obese people should contact their GP as their first port of call.

The doctor can advise about diet, exercise and support groups.

While there is no “one size fits all” approach, the NHS recommends cutting 600 calories a day to lose a sustainable 0.5kg-to-1kg (1.1lb-to-2.2lb) a week.

This can be done by loading up on fruit and vegetables, limiting dairy and meat, and having just a small amount of sugary, fatty foods as a treat.

Swapping fast food and ready meals for less processed options, while also ditching alcohol, will also help you shed the pounds.

READ MORE: Obesity isn't a choice – nor is it 'down to a lack of willpower'

When it comes to exercise, adults should do at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity work outs a week.

This can include brisk walking, cycling or dancing.

Alternatively, 75 minutes of vigorous exercise - like running or circuit training - is sufficient.

The NHS also recommends eating slowly away from the TV, avoiding social situations where temptation is high and keeping a diary of your progress.

Extreme cases may require medication or surgery.

Find out more about treating obesity on the NHS’ website.