Overweight man measuring his waist

Obesity is a medical term for a dietary disorder caused by excessive fat accumulation.

Individuals who have a Body Mass Index (BMI) over 30 are considered obese.

Being obese is a major risk factor for many other conditions such as type 2 diabetes, some cancers, cardiovascular disease (CVD) and hypertension.

Dietary and lifestyle factors contributing to the development of obesity

There are many reasons why rates of obesity are increasing and why many health experts consider it to be one of the most serious health problems worldwide.

Priority Health Issues – Obesity

Factors that contribute to obesity include:

  • Unhealthy dietary choices – Poor food choices can result in an increase in body fat. This may be due to the fact we eat a large amount of processed or fast foods, that portion sizes have increased, that sugary drinks are consumed more often and that we eat out more.
  • Increased energy intake – We are not balancing our energy intake to our energy expenditure and have increased consumption of energy-dense foods, leading to weight gain.
  • Lack of physical activity – Sedentary lifestyles due to lack of physical activity are becoming more common and this is affecting our energy expenditure, leading to additional energy being stored as fat.
  • Lack of sleep – It has been found that those who do not get enough sleep have an increased risk of becoming obese due to increased appetite. A hormone that stimulates appetite is produced when the body is lacking sleep.

Some individuals may be more at risk of developing obesity due to:

  • Genetics – There are some rare genetic conditions that can increase the risk of obesity, but in most cases it is caused by environmental factors and behaviours learned from your personal environment.
  • Medical conditions – There are some medical conditions relating to hormones that can increase the risk of obesity (for example, an underactive thyroid gland). There are also some medications, such as steroids, that can contribute to weight gain.

Dietary advice to manage obesity

  • Make healthier dietary choices – Follow advice from the Eatwell Guide and the eight tips for healthy eating. For example, eat more fruit and vegetables, drink 6-8 glasses of water a day and cut down on saturated fat.
  • Maintain energy balance – The average energy intake recommendations are 2,500 kcal per day for men and 2,000 kcal per day for women. This should not be exceeded unless an individual is particularly physically active.

Lifestyle advice to manage obesity

  • Increase physical activity – It is recommended that adults should aim for 30 minutes of physical activity, 5 times a week, and children for 60 minutes each day.
  • Have adequate sleep – It is recommended that most adults should sleep for roughly eight hours each night, with most children and adolescents requiring roughly 11 hours.