Every year, World Obesity Day lands on the 4th of March. During this time, many different companies and projects look to tackle obesity, working together to see what can be done around the ongoing worldwide struggles with obesity.

Most importantly, we should view obesity as a medical condition – not a personal failing. Obesity should be treated with care and respect, like any other medical condition. There are many factors which can contribute to obesity; today, we’ll look at some of them, and what can be done going forward.

What is Obesity?

Obesity is measured using Body Mass Index, or BMI. Working out your BMI is a relatively simple matter – simply divide your weight by your height squared. There are many BMI calculators available, which will do the calculations for you.

A BMI value of over 25 is considered Overweight, while a BMI of 30 or more is considered Obese. Of course, such a simple calculation won’t give the full picture – a rugby player might have a high BMI, due to having extra muscle weight and bone density. But, it can be seen that a high BMI has a correlation with a higher body fat percentage.

BMI below 18.5 Underweight range
BMI 18.5 to 24.9 Healthy weight range
BMI 25 to 29.9 Overweight range
BMI 30 to 39.9 Obese range
BMI above 40 Severely obese

Obesity brings with it a host of other medical conditions, which can affect your quality of life – for example, you are much more likely to contract type-2 diabetes, may experience issues with your blood pressure or heart disease, and may find it harder to recover from some injuries.

In the UK, the most recent health survey (2020) puts around ⅔ of the population over 16 into the category of obese. Child obesity offers an even more startling look; over 20% of 10-11 year-olds in the UK are obese. Projections show that this might increase to almost 70% of adults weighing in as obese by 2035.

With all this in mind, it should be important to see what we can do to help change people’s views on obesity, and move towards trying to reduce this ever-growing epidemic. 

Why is Obesity Such a Problem?

There are several factors that have contributed to the prevalence of obesity worldwide. In some countries, including parts of the UK, large areas can find themselves in a “food desert” – areas which don’t have easy access to fresh food at affordable prices. This leads to a prevalence of fast food, and processed food filling local shelves. These food deserts mean that many people (particularly those on a lower income) will buy cheaper food from smaller local shops, which is often treated with extra sugar to add flavour, or salt to extend its shelf life. In turn, these foods can also become addictive in and of themselves, due to the added sugar. Even with the expansion of delivery services, those who are already experiencing some form of poverty are more likely to also face obesity due to these factors.

Personal health literacy (i.e. the awareness the public has about health conditions) can also contribute to this. By not seeing obesity as a medical condition, the onus is left to the obese person to lose weight. However, a wide variety of factors can make weight loss a daunting prospect in the modern world – affordability of healthy food, lack of facilities or even just a lack of free time can all have an effect.

Medical and political attitudes towards obesity can also play a large part. Many will not see obesity as a health problem, but a personal failure. This leads to many doctors not taking patients seriously when they voice health concerns, simply putting their symptoms down to their weight rather than other possible causes. This can also lead to the opposite problem – patients being given treatments that can help with their symptoms, but being told the only way to treat the cause is by losing weight. If that is more difficult to do, it leads to longer-term issues for the patient.

Promoting obesity as a medical condition can allow more political avenues towards treatment. Subsidies for food and health facilities, school programs to encourage healthy living, and more education about diet and healthy living can all be useful tools in the fight against rising obesity levels. However, many cite a lack of political prioritisation as one of the reasons for the epidemic we currently face. In poverty-stricken countries, other concerns will be placed above what is seen as a personal health matter. 

Outside the UK, there are many factors which can lead to an increase in obesity, as well as poorer health outcomes for obese people. A lack of proper healthcare, such as experience with bariatric surgeries, healthcare being too expensive or even social and professional stigma surrounding obesity all contribute towards a climate of people living with obesity facing a lack of support.

What Can Be Done?
As a worldwide problem, there are so many variables and possible causes that a single set of solutions would be difficult to create. However, there are some factors which can make a difference; 

  • Encouraging physical activity, and making facilities for physical activity more inviting and accessible.
  • Better education on healthy habits, including weight management; starting these lessons earlier, and making these resources more affordable and accessible.
  • Make training for dealing with obesity available worldwide.
  • Making obesity medicine more available and affordable as it becomes more prominent.
  • Embed these principles into healthcare treatment plans around the world; improving care pathways and providing the expertise to help deal with obesity.