The statistics tell their own story. One in four people in England are now classified as obese, compared with one in six in the 1990s. Fifty-eight per cent of women and 68 per cent of men are now overweight.
Being overweight makes us less healthy: a new study published in Lancet Public Health shows a clear relationship between hospital admissions and body weight. But it also matters because being overweight makes many people unhappy.
A British Social Attitudes survey revealed that people who are overweight suffer significant stigma, and that 53 per cent of the British public are intolerant, believing that most overweight people could lose weight if they tried. But the science shows that it’s not simply a matter of being weak-willed.
“There are very clear reward pathways for food in the brain, and so if something is rewarding and constantly available, why wouldn’t you?” explains Prof Susan Jebb, a nutrition scientist at Oxford University. “In busy and stressed lives, you have to make a constant conscious effort to say no.”
Fortunately, science is now providing some answers on weight control. Just a decade ago, there weren’t enough scientific diet trials to allow doctors and dietitians to provide evidence-backed advice. In issue 317 of BBC Focus Magazine we investigate the surprising studies giving clear scientific pointers on how to fight fat – but first some science-backed fat-fighting tips:
Research presented at a recent American Heart Association meeting has found that eating quickly expands your waistline and increases heart disease risk. According to obesity expert Dr Giles Yeo, eating too quickly means you’re not leaving enough time for your gut to release hormones signalling to the brain that you’re full. So hunger continues and you keep on eating.
Avoid ‘empty’ calories
Empty calories are sugary foods that make you gain weight, but don’t make you feel full. Fizzy drinks and fruit juices deliver large concentrations of sugar to the gut so quickly and easily that your intestines barely register it’s hit them. Proteins and complex carbs, like beans, wholegrains, nuts and leafy vegetables, take longer to break down – so they’re in your gut longer and produce lasting ‘fullness’ feelings.
Don’t eat alone
Recent research published in a leading obesity journal found that men who eat alone at least twice a day increase their risk of developing obesity. The link seems to be less clear in women. This follows other studies indicating that loneliness can increase the likelihood of making unhealthy food choices.
Consider your crockery
Headline-grabbing studies have suggested that plate size, shape and colour, as well as cutlery size and weight, can affect how much you eat. Health experts continue to debate the merits of these findings. But there is little doubt that large portions contribute to weight gain, and an analysis in the British Medical Journal recommended smaller tableware.
Grab some sleep
More than 50 studies have looked into a possible link between sleep loss and weight gain, and recent reviews of the evidence have concluded that there is an association in both adults and children. Lack of sleep seems to disrupt the way we regulate hormones and metabolise glucose, and can cause increases in the hormone ghrelin, which stimulates appetite.