Hearing that Britain is in the grips of an obesity crisis probably won’t come as a surprise.
But the World Health Organisation (WHO) has now shed some light on the extent of that crisis by revealing that the UK is now the third fattest nation in Europe.
The research, on 53 countries, found that 27.8% of adults in the UK are obese, a rate exceeded only by Turkey with 32.1% and Malta with 28.9%.
The sobering statistics form part of a report by the WHO into health in Europe, which is updated every three years.
Obesity is defined as a body mass index (BMI) score of more than 30. A tally higher than 25 is seen as overweight.
Obesity is known to raise the risk of Type 2 ‘lifestyle’ diabetes, heart disease, stroke, dementia, joint and back problems and cancer.
While people across the region are living on average more than one year longer than they did five years ago, experts are concerned that the UK’s smoking, drinking and eating habits could have a devastating effect.
The UK’s alcohol consumption levels are among the highest in Europe, with Brits sinking an average of 10.7 litres of pure alcohol a year, compared with the European average of 8.6.
Dr Claudia Stein, director of the division of Information, Evidence, Research and Innovation, WHO Regional Office for Europe, said Britain’s drinking levels could be contributing to the level of obesity.
“Adults’ alcohol consumption is a huge contributor to obesity, and Britain has overtaken the European average,” she warned.
“We hold the horrible world record of being the world champions in alcohol consumption. That’s not good and its especially not good for the next generation,” she told The Telegraph.
Tam Fry, from the National Obesity Forum, also urged adults to reduce drinking habits that are contributing to our expanding waistlines?
“Adults forget just how many calories are contained in alcohol and heavy drinkers certainly will have little idea that they could be knocking back a quarter of their recommended daily calorie allowance before even touching a bite to eat,” he told The Telegraph.
The news comes as experts revealed that Britain’s obesity crisis could be starting as early as birth.
According to data gathered in 2010 and 2011 from Infant Feeding Survey and the Diet and Nutrition Survey of Infants and Young Children, 75% of children aged between four months and 18 months exceeded the ideal weight for their age, as determined by the World Health Organisation’s growth chart.
The same proportion of infants also weighed more than the ideal weight for their age, when plotted on growth charts.
So what can we do about it?
Here are some simple lifestyle changes to try today that could have a big impact on our waistlines.
Break the emotional attachment
“Emotional or ‘comfort’ eating can be a key cause of weight gain. Because it doesn’t depend on hunger, comfort eating can often be uncontrolled – you don’t necessarily stop when you’re full,” explains Nutritionist and Fitness Instructor Cassandra Barns.
What’s more, the most ‘comforting’ foods tend to be sugary foods and carbohydrates, which are easy to overeat and can quickly lead to weight gain when consumed in excess.
Barns recommends switching that comforting chocolate bar for a stress-relieving workout. “Exercise can be a great way to channel and relieve stress – you may do well with relaxing exercise such as yoga, or something more strenuous to ‘punch it out’ such as kickboxing,” she says.
And don’t go cold turkey on the treats. “When you completely cut-out sweet treats from your diet, you can have a much higher chance of giving in and binge eating,” explains Leading UK Nutritionist Dr Marilyn Glenville, author of Natural Alternatives to Sugar.
It’s much better to have a varied and balanced diet, which includes the odd treat. “Our bodies cope much better when we eat in moderation as it has time to process the food. If we overload on snacks, our blood sugar goes on a roller coaster of highs and lows and then trying to recuperate over the next few days before your next binge,” Dr Glenville adds.
Read the labels
Do you choose the ‘gluten free,’ ‘sugar free’ or ‘low fat,’ option in the hope that it can help shift those stubborn pounds? That’s a weight loss mistake right there.
“If a food or drink is described as ‘low sugar’, ‘slim line’ or ‘diet’, it will usually contain an artificial sweetener. These sweeteners have been linked to mood swings and depression, and it has been found that people who regularly use artificial sweeteners tend to gain weight because they can slow down the digestive process and increase appetite,” explains Dr Glenville.
Up your ZZZs
“People who are sleep deprived have an increased appetite,” says Dr Glenville. “Inadequate sleep lowers levels of leptin, a hormone that suppresses appetite, and increases grehlin, a hormone that increases food intake and is thought to play a role in the long-term regulation of body weight. All this suggests that sleep deprivation can make weight loss extremely difficult because it causes your body to work against you!”
If you find it hard to switch off at night, Barns recommends taking KalmAssure Magnesium Powder by Natures Plus (£24.50, www.naturesplus.co.uk). This supplement provides high-quality magnesium, which is needed to relax our muscles and nerves, helping us to unwind.
Swap white for wholemeal
For slower releasing energy. “The carbohydrates in wholemeal bread are broken down slowly over several hours and so do not give any sudden flooding of sugars into the bloodstream,” explains Dr Glenville.
“Also, this gradual release helps you to feel full for longer, suppressing your appetite and stopping you craving sweet foods because you are not on the blood sugar rollercoaster.”
Try to keep your blood sugar levels and energy levels stable by eating regularly, suggests Dr Glenville. “Eat breakfast, lunch and dinner plus a snack mid-morning and one mid-afternoon, with no longer than three hours between. This will help stop those roller-coaster highs and sugar cravings because your blood sugar isn’t allowed to drop, your body will no longer have to ask you for a quick fix.”
Sounds simple right? But it’s oh so effective.
“It’s really, honestly and truly this simple: eat less,” explains Consultant orthopaedic surgeon Mr Richard Sinnerton, of BMI The Princess Margaret Hospital in Windsor
“Just eat less. If weight is the main problem, then focus on eating eat less to start with. You can move on to healthy stuff later once the weight’s coming down. It can be too much to eat less and healthy at the same time.”
Incorporate exercise into your daily routine
“Take advantage of any available exercise opportunities in your busy life,” suggests Consultant vascular surgeon Mr Tamim Siddiqui, of BMI Carrick Glen Hospital in Lanarkshire.
“Walk or cycle to work rather than driving. Take the stairs rather than lift and sometimes take the long way round rather than the short cut. The additional exercise will not only burn off additional calories but also give you a sense of wellbeing.”
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