Obesity and being overweight are among the most common health problems faced by people worldwide. Here, DR LAURA BIFFIN of International Health Clinic (IMC) explains the dangers of excessive weight gain and a high BMI, and how a GP can help you with your weight loss journey.
What is obesity?
Obesity is a condition where an excessive amount of body fat has accumulated in the body. Many factors can contribute to obesity, including eating habits, physical activity levels, sleep routines, genetics and certain medications.
- cardiovascular disease, including heart disease and stroke;
- fatty liver;
- breathing problems, including sleep apnoea;
- joint problems, including arthritis;
- cancer; and
- mental health issues, including depression and anxiety.
What’s more, your risk of developing these conditions increases even if you are only mildly overweight.
How are obesity and overweight measured?
“It is body fat and not actual weight that carries the increased risk of disease,” says Dr Biffin. “However, it’s very difficult and costly to accurately measure one’s body fat.”
Therefore, doctors use body mass index (BMI), as well as other measurements and blood test results, to evaluate the risks involved with increased body fat.
How BMI is calculated
BMI is calculated by dividing body weight (measured in kilograms) by height (measured in square metres). For example, a person who is 80kg and 175cm has a BMI of 26.1.
A BMI over 25 is classified as overweight, and a BMI over 30 is considered obese.
“But, one does have to be careful when using BMI,” says Dr Biffin. “Very fit and muscular people, and people of certain ethnic groups, can have high BMIs and not be at high risk for the adverse consequences of obesity.”
Using waist circumference to measure obesity
Additionally, a waist circumference can be used to measure risk, explains Dr Biffin.
“Abdominal obesity (excess fat in the abdomen) is associated with increased visceral fat – the fat covers internal organs. This type of fat is known to be much more unhealthy than the fat under the skin, subcutaneous fat.”
A waist circumference above 102 centimetres for males and above 88 centimetres for females suggests abdominal adiposity. The threshold is lower for Asian men and women – 90 centimetres for men and 80 centimetres for women.
How your GP can help with your weight loss journey
Luckily, obesity is a treatable condition. In fact, losing weight can help reduce all of the risks associated with it. And, most importantly, your GP can help.
According to Dr Biffin, patients should seek help from the GP if they:
- feel that their weight loss efforts are hopeless and they are becoming fed up with the painful cycle of loss and regain;
- have chronic diseases like high blood pressure or sleep apnoea, which can significantly improve with weight loss;
- are psychologically affected by the weight; and/or
- have tried weight loss medications in the past, but have been unable to tolerate the side effects.
“Your GP will first assess your risk,” explains Dr Biffin. “It’s also essential that they screen for other diseases that may be contributing to weight gain.”
This may include screening for:
- thyroid problems;
- mood issues;
- hormonal changes; and
- other diseases that may be affecting your metabolism, like impaired glucose regulation.
Dietary interventions and exercise
Dietary interventions and exercise programmes are among the options you can discuss with your GP. Your GP can also refer you to dieticians and exercise physiologists, and liase with them, and you, to make the best individual plan for weight loss and healthy living.
“At IMC, we want to promote body positivity and body confidence. Helping our patients to take control of their lives through diet and exercise, and other lifestyle modifications, can improve their enjoyment of life,” says Dr Biffin.
“It’s important to aim for achievable and reasonable goals. Losing weight should always be done safely and in a controlled manner. This will not only help ensure that the weight loss remains long term, but also prevent unwanted outcomes such as fatigue and burnout.”
Medication that can help with losing weight
There are also medications that can help with weight loss. In fact, more effective medications have arrived in the last few years, says Dr Biffin. So, it might be worth a discussion with your doctor.
“We now have medications that are better tolerated and much more effective than the weight loss medications developed in the 70s and 80s. You can work with your doctor to find the most suitable medication for you.”
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