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What is it?
Overweight and obesity are defined as abnormal or excessive fat accumulation that may impair health. It is commonly measured by body mass index (BMI) which is calculated by dividing a person’s weight in kilograms by height squared (i.e. kg/m2). The World Health Organisation recommends a BMI of 18.5 to 24.9.
People with a BMI of greater than or equal to 25 are classified as overweight. Those with a BMI above or equal to 30 are regarded as obese. In Australia more than 11 million adults are overweight or obese.3
Being overweight or obese is a major risk factor for many health-related conditions including heart disease, stroke, diabetes, musculoskeletal disorders (e.g. osteoarthritis) and some cancers including breast, ovarian, prostate, liver and colon.3 It is also a risk factor for a number of mental health conditions including depression, anxiety and dementia.
Unlike other health-related conditions, diagnosis of overweight or obesity is straightforward (i.e. BMI calculation). Gaining weight is something most people can detect without jumping on the scales. Gradual, consistent weight gain should be addressed. Other symptoms may include breathlessness, heart palpitations, high blood pressure or aching joints.
There are many overlapping causes of obesity. In our wider environment, the availability of affordable, healthy food choices, provision of enough open space for leisure/exercise and marketing of foods high in fat, sugar and salt all play a role. Tied to this, Australians living in regional areas are at greater risk of being overweight or obese along with people who are in lower socioeconomic groups.4
At an individual level, genetics and lifestyle are two key factors. Research is providing more insight into the role of genetics including specific genes which are thought to be key markers for obesity. Those with certain medical or psychological conditions may also be more at risk of gaining weight.
Lifestyle factors are more straightforward to understand. It has been reported that 95 out of 100 people do not eat enough fruit and vegetables, while 55 out of 100 do not do enough physical activity.5 Our growing reliance on devices and technology is creating more sedentary lifestyles. While emerging evidence suggests the energy in, energy out theory of obesity is probably a bit too simplistic these days, it’s a good place to start. Further research suggests that losing three kilograms can have a significant impact on our individual health and the overall health burden in Australia.1
Losing weight should be applauded but sometimes it can be more difficult to maintain the weight loss. People who’ve lost weight should be careful not to slide back into old habits. Studies suggest 50% of weight lost is regained in a year and only 5% of weight loss is maintained long-term.6
Protect yourself: Minimise risk
• The first step to protect yourself against obesity is to understand your risk factors.
• Calculate your BMI. There are more precise measures of obesity but BMI is quick and easy (i.e. kg/m2).
• Be honest about any unhealthy weight gain. Take positive steps to address it, don’t dismiss it.
• Engage in regular physical activity and eat healthily – reduce sugar, salt, fat and processed foods. Getting enough (good quality) sleep is also important.
• Take steps to address stress. Cortisol – linked to stress — has been implicated in weight gain.
• Knowing your risk, consider whether you have adequate insurance (e.g. life, trauma, total & permanent disability, income protection) to protect what you value most in life.
3. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2016). Australia’s health 2016. Australia’s health series no. 15. Canberra. http://www.aihw.gov.au/WorkArea/DownloadAsset.aspx?id=60129555788
6. Appelhans, B.M., French, S.A., Pagoto, S.L., & Sherwood, N.E. (2016). Managing temptation in obesity treatment: A neurobehavioural model of intervention strategies. Appetite, 96, 268-279. doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2015.09.035
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