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We all know by now that we are in the midst of an obesity 'crisis'. More than 60% of UK adults are now classed as overweight or obese, with numbers set to rise over the coming decades.
Obesity has been linked to a variety of health conditions, and being overweight is believed to increase a person's risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and several cancers. Recently, Cancer Research UK noted a 45% rise in the number of cancer cases in which excess weight was a leading risk factor. As for diabetes, the number of cases in the UK has just passed four million, having risen 65% in the last decade, and obesity is seen as the leading reason behind this.
So obesity is bad for us, but for someone who is already very overweight, there's no point reiterating the risks; instead we should look at the best way to help them shed the pounds and regain control of their health.
Often, those who don't struggle with their weight are very quick to point the finger and call overweight people lazy and greedy. Even the NHS advises that to treat obesity, the best thing to do is 'eat a healthy, reduced-calorie diet and to exercise regularly'. Many overweight people visiting their GP will be told this and given no further help. Surely if it were that easy, the majority of us would be at a healthy weight instead of only one third of UK adults?
Now four weight loss experts in the US have come forward to challenge the idea that the answer to obesity is just to eat less and exercise more. The article, published in the journal Lancet Diabetes and Endocrinology, set out to counter the view that anyone who is obese can return to a healthy weight through making lifestyle changes.
Weight management expert Christopher N. Ochner, says that:
"Once obesity is established, however, body weight seems to become biologically 'stamped in' and defended."
This could explain why it becomes so difficult to lose weight once it has been gained. The human body has evolved to protect itself against scarcity of food, and employs various methods to ensure weight loss is kept to a minimum. Therefore if you drastically cut the number of calories you are consuming, your body will respond by reducing the calories it burns and produce hormones to increase hunger to ensure the lost weight is regained.
The experts claim that this means any obese person who does manage to lose weight is actually 'in remission' and will never truly recover. They will always be battling against their own bodies.
It is clear that the best way to help people who are obese is not to stigmatise and bully them. Most overweight people are already aware that their weight is not optimal for their health, and have probably already tried making lifestyle changes.
These health experts emphasise the importance of early intervention and helping people to control their weight before it gets out of control. Medical professionals should also offer further advice regarding weight loss maintenance to ensure the patient doesn't just put any lost weight back on.
Other options for weight loss may prove more successful for those who are already obese. These include surgical option such as a gastric band, or weight loss medications such as Xenical. Both of these treatments can help patients lose some weight safely while making lifestyle changes to enable them to maintain a healthier weight.