With the festive season over, many of us are planning to turn over a new leaf and shed a few pounds this year with diet and exercise.
And new research suggests that when it comes to weight, Britain is in dire need of a reality check.
A Bupa study published last week found that four in ten obese people consider themselves a ‘healthy’ size, and too many of us are ‘blissfully unaware’ of the true impact our lifestyles are having on our health.
Experts called for better education about weight and the host of diseases that being overweight is linked to, including heart disease, cancer, diabetes and dementia.
So, are you fatter than you think?
We put five people to the test. Like many, they didn’t think their weight was a serious problem. So we checked their dimensions as well as giving them standard health checks. Chris Jones, head of physiology at Nuffield Health, where the tests were carried out, then analysed the results. Each underwent the following tests:
Body Mass Index (BMI): This measurement is used to assess whether you’re underweight, normal weight, overweight or obese for your height. A healthy BMI is between 18 and 25; 25 to 30 is overweight and 30 or above obese.
Waist to Hip Ratio (WHR): Too much fat around the middle is strongly linked to chronic diseases such as diabetes and cancer – that’s why being an apple shape (with a chunky waist) is more unhealthy than being a pear shape (where the weight sits on the hips and thighs).
Your dimensions are calculated using the WHR – just divide your waist measurement by your hip measurement.
You need to take urgent action if your ratio is more than 1.0 for a man (in other words, your waist is bigger than your hips so you are apple-shaped) or 0.8 for a woman because you are at greater risk of chronic diseases.
Blood pressure: High blood pressure will place strain on the heart and walls of the blood vessels – it doubles the risk of heart disease and increases the risk of stroke and blindness. The ideal is 120/80mmHg or below.
Aerobic fitness: This is measured using your pulse – the time interval between your heartbeats is used to find out how well your body takes up and uses oxygen. Aerobic fitness is linked to coronary artery disease, bowel cancer and depression.
The reading is a VO2 (or volume of oxygen) figure. The average for a 30-year-old man is 41-45 (for a woman, it’s 34-37); for a 40-year-old man, 36-41 (for a woman, 30-33); for a 50-year-old man, 33-36 (for a woman, 26-29).
Resting heart rate: A high rate may indicate strain on the heart and lungs; between 60 and 79 beats per minute is a normal level.
Blood glucose: High levels of blood sugar raise the risk of diabetes and heart disease. Less than 5.8 after not eating for 12 hours is a good level.
Cholesterol levels: A reading above 5.0 mmol/L raises the risk of blocked blood vessels, triggering strokes and heart attacks.
‘WHO KNEW CAFFEINE MADE YOU FAT?’
Penny Green, 51, a charity director, lives in Eaton Bray, Bedfordshire, with her husband and three children.
‘I’m never going to be small, but I suspect I could do with losing a stone or two. I find exercise difficult due to time constraints, plus problems and injuries with my feet and ankles.
‘I work for hours at a time at a computer and, until recently, spent a lot of time caring for my mum, who has dementia.
‘I have trouble sleeping and have been told I might have a thyroid problem – this is being investigated. Though I drink seven glasses of water a day, I also have seven cups of tea, too.’
Weight: 13st 11lb
Height: 5ft 8in
BMI: Overweight/borderline obese (29.6) – needs to lose 2st 2lb for a healthy BMI
Waist to hip ratio: Very high risk of chronic disease (0.92)
Blood pressure: Normal (127/8)
Aerobic fitness score: Fair (VO2: 23)
Resting heart rate: Borderline too fast (79 beats per minute)
Blood glucose: Normal (4.6)
Cholesterol: Raised (6.33)
EXPERT VERDICT: Unless she does something about her weight, Penny will be storing up a whole host of potential health problems for the future.
Her BMI is higher than it should be though, worryingly, it’s not dissimilar to many women of her age.
As women age, their tendency to store weight moves from the hips to the waist and this is where Penny stores it. This fat raises the risk of most chronic diseases such as arthritis, cardio-vascular disease, diabetes and cancer.
She says she’s been stressed lately – stress increases the production of the hormone cortisol, which can cause weight gain around the waist.
Caffeine also stimulates the release of stress hormones. If she does have a thyroid problem, then she must discuss the issue of medication with her GP as thyroid function can affect weight and cholesterol level.
If Penny aims to walk her dogs for 45 minutes at least three days a week, that will ease her into being active again, but she would need to break into a sweat.
PENNY SAYS: ‘Given that my mum has vascular dementia and being overweight increases the risk of it, I really want to get my weight down.
‘I believe I can go for a walk around three times a week – before, I thought getting slightly short of breath was a sign to stop. Now I’ll keep going.
‘I also had no idea that stress and caffeine could be contributory to my weight. So I will swap to fruit teas.’