PC 233 Am I Obese or just overweight?

Am I obese or just overweight? I don’t feel ‘obese’, a bit wobbly maybe, and think that’s a label for the Billy Bunter character, or Noel Edmonds’ Mr Blobby; so no! But overweight? We probably have all had periods of being fatter or thinner than we would like, than we feel comfortable with, but overweight? What follows are my personal thoughts, reflecting that what’s right or wrong for me isn’t necessarily right or wrong for someone else. And I accept that advice changes – ‘butter is good for you’, ‘butter is bad for you’, ‘eggs are good for you’, ‘eggs give you salmonella’. Sedentary lifestyles during lockdown initially saw lots of people turning to exercise, but the novelty’s worn off and weight, well certainly mine, has been going up incrementally!

This was me just over two months ago – 100kg and a BMI score of 28 whichever way you look at it! (Overweight!)

Our headlines scream: ‘Britain has been the ‘Fattest Nation in Europe’ for a while’ and recent reports indicated the percentage of the population overweight or obese is increasing! So, does it matter?

We have been measuring our childrens’ growth in schools for ever, establishing whether their health and growth were in line with the norms. The Body Mass Index (BMI) was introduced in the 1830s by a Belgian mathematician, Lambert Quetelet, as a way of estimating whether a person had a healthy weight, to measure the degree of obesity in the general population and therefore assist the government to allocate enough resources. I suspect we all know that BMI equals your weight in kilogrammes divided by your height in metres squared – kg h²

But this is simply measuring height and weight and doesn’t take into account other variables, for instance overall fat or lean tissue content. In 2013 Professor Nick Trefethen from Oxford University suggested that the height term ‘divides the weight by too much when a person is short and by too little when they are tall. This results in short people being told they are thinner than they really are, while tall people (that’s me!) are made to think that they are fatter than they are (‘tis true!!) Trefethen thinks a more accurate measurement would be multiplying the weight by 1.3 and the height by 2.5 and not squared. The same ranges would apply. (Ed. Doesn’t make that much difference to mine – still overweight!)

More recently it’s thought a waist-to-height ratio might be a better predictor of cardiometabolic health. Measure your waist mid-way between your bottom rib and hip; make sure it’s level and measure after you have breathed out. A healthy waist measurement should be less than 80 centimetres for a woman and less than 94 for a man. (Sorry? Not a circumference I recognise!) Your waist circumference should be less than half your height.

The urgency of tackling obesity here is the UK has been brought into focus by the evidence of the link between overweight and susceptibility to Covid; who knew? It’s estimated that 64 % of British adults, some 32 million people, are overweight (BMI over 25). This includes 28% who are obese and that’s double the figure for 30 years ago; of these almost a million people have a BMI of 35 or more. For those in this last category there is good news and bad news. The good news is that scientists have identified a gene, MC4R, that, if faulty, causes the brain to assume we have less fat than we do and signals we have to take in more calories. This might be the cause of an extra 16kgs. The bad news is it is likely to affect only 200,000 people in the UK; the other 800,000 obese are obese for other reasons!

Eating has become a continuous process – snacking or drinking coffee ‘on the go’. Mrs Fedup had a microphone stuck under her nose and the reporter asked her for her thoughts about the three hour delay from Magaluf to Manchester: “Shocking! No one tells us anything and no one provides us with any food. Haven’t eaten for 90 minutes. I’m starving!” We use words like hungry and starving too readily – it would be extremely difficult to find someone starving in the UK.

The leather belt by RM Williams shows the struggles, up and down!

Some people feel healthy even if they are overweight, particularly if they have been overweight most of their lives. Sadly being overweight often runs in families through bad eating and drinking habits; deaf to the warnings about the damage they are doing to their bodies and lacking the desire to self-educate about being healthier – but does that matter? We probably think that those who work in the health sector would understand and be role models of fit and healthy – but we are simply human and our doctors and nurses are just as likely to be overweight as the normal population. In Portugal last year the doctor we saw to get our Covid tests smoked and was overweight; I am sure he was happy, apart for the little monkey in his brain which every now and again said ‘Do something’. Some of us of course have a fatalistic approach to life.   

 Here we are making it easier to live with being overweight. Seats are being made wider, ambulances have stronger stretchers, you can find some clothes in XXXL (Well, maybe!). Instinctively this seems the wrong thing we should be doing; we should make it more uncomfortable as an incentive to lose weight. Part of my move away from 100kgs has been that, in order to get the jeans to do up, I have to breathe in; when I am zipped up, I breathe out and it’s uncomfortable. So I could go and buy some bigger jeans ……. or lose weight.

After decades of telling myself that breakfast is the most important meal in the day, I now skip it completely so actually fast from 2100 to 1230 the following day. Fasting changes the metabolism and from 100kgs I am on my way down ………

Some argue that the obese and overweight will actually save the NHS money as their life expectancy is lower than those of a healthy weight; bit morbid but probably true! However issues like heart disease and diabetes, brought on by being overweight, occur in middle age so there will be a bigger bill for the bigger nation. It matters and it matters big time!

Richard 4th June 2021


PS Suggestions one should get back to the weight you were at 20 are common. For me this would have been at The Royal Military Academy weighing 73kgs (11.5 stone) – with a BMI of 20. Ha! Ha!

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