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Posted on 12 Mar 2018 Views 2531 Comments 23

Why are obesity levels still increasing?

It’s true that on a very simple level, our weight depends on how many calories we eat, how many of those calories we store and how many we use. However, each of these factors are influenced by things such as our genetic make-up, the ‘obesogenic’ environment, our behaviour and our choices.

These days we have a plethora of information at our fingertips about how to eat healthily, how to be more active and how to lose weight well. Why then, are obesity levels still on the rise? Prevalence of obesity has increased from 15% in 1993 to 27% in 2015 1.

Data suggests that 58% of women and 68% of men are now either overweight or obese. Perhaps more worrying is in the increase in childhood obesity over recent years – 20% of children starting school in Reception are overweight or obese, which increases to a third by the time children leave primary school in Year 62. Twenty years ago, it was rare to see childhood obesity.

In this blog, we aim to explore some of the reasons why obesity levels are still increasing, with the aim of highlighting things you may recognise and want to change. Here are Slim & Save, we are committed to helping you improve your health and wellbeing. If you would like to know more, please feel free to have a browse through our previous blogs and articles, and contact us if you would like to know more about our programmes or discuss whether they would be right for you.


  1. Convenience foods
    The availability of quick, easy and convenience meals, snacks and takeaways with super-size portions has soared over recent years. Food is available from practically anywhere. You can even buy a vast array of unhealthy snacks from the vending machine after your gym or swim workout – making it easy to eat more than you’ve just burned! The average calorie requirements to maintain a healthy weight are around 2000kcal/day for women and 2500kcal for men (assuming they are physically active). Whilst this calorie amount sounds high, it’s really easy to reach this with certain types of food. Take a burger, fries and shake from a well-known burger outlet for example – this can easily rack up 1500kcal in one meal! While a large latte and slice and of cake from your favourite café will likely cost you around 800kcal!
  2. Eating out
    As a society, we tend to eat out a lot more than we used to. A simple remedy for improving the healthiness of your diet is to cook more homemade foods, from fresh, where you can control the ingredients added. Recent statistics suggest that 43% of people eat out at least once a week3. Foods will usually be higher in sugar and fat which are added to improve the flavour. The portion sizes consumed in a meal-out or takeaway are likely to be significantly greater than the size of a home-cooked meal, and you may be easily persuaded to have a starter and/or dessert in addition to the main, especially if there’s a meal deal involved.
  3. The rise of the fad diet
    Fad diets – think paleo, raw vegan, juicing diets – we’ve all heard of them and have probably even tried them at one point or another. In a society where everyone ‘needs it now’, waiting for results is not seen an option. Unfortunately with these sort of fad diets, whilst they are often successful in the short term, in the longer term most people put all the weight on and more, meaning they weigh more than when they started.
  4. Anything for an easy life!
    Obese-vs-healthy-figureWith technology expanding at a rate of knots, we are always trying to create easier ways of doing things, to save us the energy of actually doing it ourselves! Whether it’s asking Alexa to turn on the lights, ordering our shopping online, or taking the lift instead of the stairs, it’s easy to get sucked into doing less physical activity. Add to this that most of us have ‘sedentary’ jobs, and spend our leisure time in front of the TV, it’s easy to see how time for exercise can go out the window. The British Heart Foundation estimates that the average working-age adult spends 9.5 hours per day sitting down4 (e.g. working, watching TV) – this is the length of an average flight to the Caribbean! Simply being on your feet more helps you burn more calories. Doing 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity (e.g. brisk walk, swimming, aqua-natal class) each day will support weight loss or ensure you maintain a healthy weight. Consider making easy choices to be more active, e.g. take a walk during your lunch break, take the stairs more, walk or cycle to work.
  5. We have stressful lives
    Despite all that technology has done to give us an ‘easier life’, our nation is even more stressed than ever! In many families, both parents work, making it harder to find time to shop, cook, and eat healthy foods together. We worry about what we hear in the news, which makes us reluctant to allow children to ride their bikes to the park to play. Parents end up driving kids to play dates and other activities, meaning less activity for the kids and more stress for parents. Time pressures, be it from school, work, or family obligations often lead people to eat on the run and to sacrifice sleep, both of which can contribute to weight gain. In turn, we may combat the stress we feel by ‘hibernating’ (aka being less active) and by comfort eating to make ourselves feel better. Alcohol intake may go hand in hand with this as well, and being high in calories, drinking too much alcohol can also lead to weight gain. If stress goes unchecked, it may lead to anxiety and depression, and if antidepressants are prescribed, these are often linked with further weight gain.
  6. Advertising
    These days, we are bombarded with advertising around unhealthy foods – be it from TV commercials or in the supermarkets themselves. Add to this the ready availability of promotional offers found near the entrance of the supermarket (to hook into your hunger) and at the check-outs (to persuade you to give into pester power), it’s no wonder we often give into unhealthy foods and drinks. Advertising and the food industry is unlikely to be solely to blame, but certainly has a role in increasing obesity levels.
  7. Fatter children = fatter adults
    I often hear people saying that obesity runs ‘in the family’ or ‘it’s in my genes’. Environmental influences which may predispose you to obesity can come into play before you’re even born. For example research has shown that babies of mothers who smoked during pregnancy or whose mothers had diabetes are more likely to become overweight than those whose mothers didn’t. After birth, babies who are breastfed for more than three months are less likely to be obese as teenagers than babies who are breastfed for less than three months. Whilst there are some rare genetic conditions which cause obesity, there is no reason why most people can’t lose weight. In the majority of cases, becoming obese is more to do with environmental factors, one of which is poor eating habits developed during childhood. Childhood habits often stick with people for the rest of their lives. Children can easily become accustomed to the taste of sweet foods and drinks from an early age. These days, kids are plied with sweet snacks at the school gate and sweets are no longer limited to a weekend treat. Kids who watch television and play video games instead of being active may be programming themselves for a sedentary future. Childhood obesity has steadily increased over recent years despite many public health campaigns such as ‘Healthy Schools’ to reduce it. Children who are overweight or obese are much more likely to continue this into adulthood, creating a ‘vicious cycle’. We hope this has given you some food for thought, and will help you to understand that actually it's not just one thing that contributes to society becoming more overweight but likely more than one of above factors, and armed with such information hopefully we can understand and improve upon areas that are relevant to each individual.

References

Written by Annemarie Aburrow RD BSc (Hons) PGDip, Slim & Save Dietitian.

Why do you think obesity levels are still increasing? Post your comments below by 4pm Monday 19th March and you could be in with a chance of winning a set of fantastic Bluetooth Scales!

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Comments on Why are obesity levels still increasing?
Anthony Gallop 02/07/2018 12:01
I feel obesity levels are increasing due to us all having bad foods on tap and so easily available in more abundance than ever, lack of exercise and not thinking of what we are eating in calories.

If we exercise more and think about what we are eating then keeping a good weight will be fairly easy but I feel people just don't know how much rubbish is in a lot of these convenience foods like crisps, bars, cereals etc.

When I was younger, I was always out the house on my bike and also I had a paper round which kept me active too.

I also feel that todays modern living is also to add to the problems with more of us working and longer hours, it becomes a chore to cook sometimes so that's when the microwave and take-away meals are such an attraction.

When I get to my ideal weight, I will drastically change my diet and eat more vegetables, fish, proteins etc as I don't want to go back to what I was as I feel so much better only being on the Simplicity plan for 2 weeks.

Onwards and upwards!
Lesley Sinclair 19/03/2018 15:11
I think the increase is caused by a number of reasons combined together. The first is the availability of cheap, fatty and sugary foods. For this we can blame the all powerful food industry - they know what we like and don’t hesitate to give it to us.
The second is the increase in stress in everyday lives compared to that encountered by, say, our grandparents. This particularly applies to children, who are less equipped to deal with the pressures of modern life. What to we do to counter this stress? Many of us turn to eating; food is readily available, it’s comforting and doesn’t cost much. The downside is the effect all this fat and sugar has on our hips!
The third reason for our expanding waistlines is lack of exercise. Compared to our grandparents, we move around little. And I don’t mean going to the gym; we don’t walk, we take the car, we don’t climb steps, we take the lift, we don’t spend most of the time working at active jobs, we sit in front of computer screens or pay someone to do the housework.
Fourthly I blame governments, particularly in the US and U.K., for giving us bad dietary advice based on shaky science. The growth of low fat foods developed by the food industry in recent years, responding to government advice, has only served to increase our intake of sugar.
What is the answer? Steps are already being taken like taxes on sugary drinks and agreements with the food industry re labelling and fat and sugar content. This will all take time and and I think the government needs to be more forceful and legislate to bring the industry to heal. More dietary education of the right kind, and particularly for the young. More encouragement for all to get moving in any way - community walks and runs, council run programmes. Less time in front of screens, more time outside, gardening or whatever.
It’s going to be a slow and difficult process, but what is the alternative? There is none except to die early deaths from heart disease, stroke and diabetes. Oh dear, I don’t want that for myself, and that is why I have started on a s and s programme!
Gina Graves 18/03/2018 22:51
I think it’s all down to lifestyle, convienence foods and lack of exercise. Children these days don’t want to go out to play like I used to.
Sharon king 18/03/2018 18:19
Childhood obesity is in the increase due to lifestyle choices
I feel that due to the ever increasing cost of food bills housing parents are having to work longer hours to make enough to live
This then snowballs into not havining enough time to prepare fresh meals or meal prep home made meals for the family
So when they return home it will be a case of picking children up from child minders then getting them home fed bathed and in bed
So this will probably include a McDonald's on the way home or order a pizza from the local pizza shop
Speaking from my experiences I felt it was easier and quicker to grab a takeaway doesn't take as long as cooking food from scratch or putting meals in the oven

Another reason is lack of food for some children as there are some families that can't afford luxuries so to make ends meet some children will only have probably one meal a day and that could be in school and when their home could be loads of bread or chips or high far cheap foods amd ready meals that parents can only afford

It's costs a lot more to eat healthier than it is to grab a pizza for 3 children or a happy meal for one

It's our lifestyle that is causing childhood obesity and it's sad because it then goes on into adult hood and then past down through the generations

I remember my mum used to always make home made meals when I was a child but then due to me working longer hours when I became an adult I turned to take always and fast food and I do it with my own child there's isn't enough hours in the days for us to stop and prepare were far to busy running round trying to make ends meet or fit everything into one day that we take an easy option when it comes to our children diets as exhaustion takes over and we just want to get them into bed in order to get to bed ourselves
Nic M 18/03/2018 17:40
For me it started as a child when elderly relatives gave me sweets each week "for a treat". For them, they did think they were giving me a treat, as they came through WW2 and rationing. For me, it was the start of an unhealthy relationship with food, which kicked off into weight issues when I was at home with my first baby. A subsequent diagnosis of PCOS (which with it's relationship with insulin resistance) has meant that I have to work harder than average to lose weight/not put it on in the first place.
My aim (as I work through weight loss with Slim and Save) is to work out what slim people eat and do, and to copy that. I'm guessing they don't binge on chocolate and crisps!
Clare May 18/03/2018 17:39
It's so easy isn't out. Feel hungry, grab a bar, a packet, a tub and eat on the go.
You don't have to think about it, so you don't look too closely. Combine this with much bigger meal portion sizes and less need to travel on foot and there you have it. Education is the biggest threat to obesity. Combine that with making time to prepare and really thinking about your choices and you can reverse the trend. That's why I like Slim & Save, it gives me time to breathe, think and prepare. Some respite!
Jolene Riakiotakis 18/03/2018 14:35
It's like a perfect storm. Lack of an active lifestyle, easily accessible junk food being cheaper than healthy convenience food and carb heavy diets.
Molly Silva 16/03/2018 13:15
I'm in agreement with pretty much all the comments above! Convenience, busy lifestyles, technology, general laziness, (and the list goes on!) all contribute to this epidemic. Having grown up in the USA, I've been around obesity - and have personal struggled with it - my whole life. But for today's children, compared to my childhood (I'm now 40), it's true that it's a lot easier for kids to be inactive and sedentary - again due to many factors already mentioned: convenience (being able to jump in a car or public transport to get somewhere, rather than walk), technology (the ease of wasting hours upon hours on mobile phones, online gaming/games consoles vs. going outside to play), busy lifestyles (quick ready meal or fastfood, instead of sitting down for a family dinner), etc. Kids and parents need to be better educated (ultimately it's the adults who are accountable for themselves and their children). I'm not saying it's easy! It's a vicious cycle. I know this from experience, because my own mother would let me drown my sorrows and depression in food or by staying in bed all day. It's a sad and scary situation we're in, but we must start being more aware and do something proactively about it!
Tracey duffy 16/03/2018 12:24
I feel obesity levels are on the rise due to lack of parenting. People are to fast to tell kids to be quite and go on the tablet/pc ect. Kids don't play out anymore they are stuck in doors from the moment they get home from school eating fast fatty foods. Parents will be over worked and just don't cook good home made food anymore plus because there is so much choice and it is so cheap you don't get a one big family meal of a night you get fast easy prossesed rubbish. It used to be a family meal freshly cooked for even one on the house and if you didn't eat that you get nothing else.
Deborah Murray 15/03/2018 22:27
Children in London get free bus passes, they do not walk from a young age now, I don’t believe entirely it’s diet alone, it’s exercise. If the youth of today do not walk, they will pass this on to future generations. If they don’t have their bus pass on them to go a few stops, and tell their parents, the bus driver never let them on, instead of saying 1 where is your bus pass, 2 you lazy child, in future you walk, do not embarrass me by boarding a bus with no pass, they call the bus garage and shout and scream. Learn now for future generations, if you eat too much and exercise it will pan out, but no exercise leads to obesity xxxx

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