The Obesity Epidemic
B.ExSSci and M.ClinExPhys. Memb: ESSA, ASCA Level 1 Strength and Conditioning Coach
Level 2 Representative Coach (Cricket Australia)
The obesity epidemic has been a hotly debated topic in Australia over the last few decades. The statistics don’t lie and indicate that 65% of Australians of all ages are overweight, and 35% of these are obese. This is an alarming figure compared with just 20 years ago. The defence chief of the Australian army reveals that a study shows that one in seven Australian soldiers are too overweight for service in the field. Morbid obesity has recently been classed as a disability by the International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health. This is due to the extreme movement limitations and orthopaedic concerns it places on people.
The greatest risk factors for obesity are physical inactivity and increased intake of energy dense foods (i.e. those high in fat and simple sugars). We live in a world that is based on convenience, making it difficult to be as active as we once were. One only has to look at the introduction of home delivery services and the ease of which we can access the world via technology to realise that reasons to get up and leave the couch are becoming less.
Obesity refers to an abnormal accumulation of body fat in proportion to size. In other words, an increased weight compared with height is indicative of a more obese individual. This relationship is known as the Body Mass Index or BMI. As a very general measure, BMI can categorise a person as either underweight, normal weight, overweight or obese. However, the BMI scale is not the most reliable indicator of obesity as it fails to distinguish between the amounts of lean muscle mass and fat mass. For example, a very muscular athlete who isn’t very tall may be in the overweight or obese categories which suggest he’s at an increased risk of obesity related disease, which is inaccurate.
A more reliable indicator of being overweight or obese is measuring waist circumference. Research indicates that excess central fat mass around the stomach places us at an increased risk of obesity related diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure, coronary heart disease or heart failure, musculoskeletal aches and pains, breathlessness and some cancers. There are also psychological effects such as reduced self-esteem and self-efficacy, anxiety and depression.
A lot of people are driven to reducing their mass and looking better on the outside which raises the question of fatness versus fitness. Is it better to be overweight/obese and fit, or thin and unfit? Having good cardiovascular fitness lowers disease risk and has been shown to reduce all-cause mortality. Therefore, when undertaking a weight loss exercise program, the focus should be on increasing the body’s level of conditioning to reduce this disease risk.
Initially when undertaking a weight loss exercise program, our first goal is changing behaviour and engaging in regular exercise. When looking at the amount of weight loss over time, it is a reasonable expectation to lose 0.5-1kg per week over the first 6 months for obese individuals. It is important to aim for steady weight loss and be patient to prevent relapse. The overall aim is for adherence to physical activity long term to live a healthier and happier life both physically and mentally. Those who aim for rapid weight loss may have success in the short term; however these routines are not sustainable long term and are often accompanied by relapses. These routines are often accompanied with overtraining and restricted caloric intake which are often detrimental to health.
There are so many myths surrounding how much exercise is good for you, which type of exercise to do and the volume of exercise. An exercise physiologist can help assess you and get a good picture of your physical activity history, interests and goals and then prescribe an individualised exercise program for you. No individual is the same, we all have different capabilities, movement limitations and gym experience. Exercise physiologists have specialised knowledge in tailoring exercise to suit individuals with musculoskeletal limitations and any other medical conditions which you may have. Their knowledge of exercise is vast and they are aware of many different variations of exercises that will suit your gym experience. At Institute of Sports and Spines, all programs are conducted in a fully supported and motivational environment. We have a range of facilities and services to help you measure and understand your BMI, waist measurement, waist hip ration and body composition testing to give you an accurate measure of percentage body fat, lean muscle mass and give you a more accurate understanding of how much weight/fat you can safely lose. For more information on Exercise Physiology, or to book a consult for assessment or exercise programs please contact our clinic.