12 things you probably didn’t know about obesity

Did you know obesity might be ‘contagious’, or dust could make you fat?

Press Association
Last updated: 25 April 2018 - 7.33pm

Nearly one in four people in the UK are classified as obese, and numbers are increasing – the percentage of adults who fall into this weight category has roughly doubled since the mid-1980s.

A new documentary – The Truth About Obesity (BBC1, April 26) – sets out to detail the latest research into obesity and what being so overweight does to the body, and looks at the most up-to-date solutions to combating the problem.

[Read more:11 ways not to get old and fat]

Of course, obesity is such a hot topic that many of its core issues have been discussed repeatedly. But believe it or not, there are probably still some things you don’t know about the weight epidemic. Here are 12 of them:

1. Fat future

It’s predicted that 74% of men and 64% of women will be overweight by 2030, and 36% and 33% respectively will be obese.


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2. Fattening dust

Dust can make you fat – or, at least, it can make mice fat. In a 2017 study, scientists from Duke University in the USA found mouse ‘pre-fat’ cells (cells known to develop into fat cells when exposed to fat-causing chemicals) were more likely to divide into fat cells and accumulate more fat after being exposed to household dust. The researchers suggested chemicals in dust might be contributing to the increase in obesity – although it’s not known if the effects on the mouse cells would be seen in humans.

3. Cost of diabetes

Type 2 diabetes is heavily linked to obesity (unlike type 1 diabetes, which is not linked with weight and lifestyle factors) and the cost of the condition to the NHS is over £1.5m an hour, or 10% of the NHS budget for England and Wales.

4. Wider waists

As well as BMI, a good measure of excess fat is waist circumference – generally, men with a waist circumference of 94cm (37in) or more, and women with a waist circumference of 80cm (31.5in) or more are more likely to develop obesity-related health problems.

5. Causes death

Obesity is the second leading cause of preventable death in the world, after smoking.

6.  Worse for the poor

Obesity affects low-income people more than higher-income people. This may be because the least expensive foods have fewer nutrients but often more fat and calories.

[Fat can be good for you after all: What you need to know about the full-fat debate]

7.  It’s contagious

Obesity is socially contagious. According to research from Harvard University and the University of California, San Diego, when a person gains weight, then close friends are likely to gain weight too. The researchers found that if a friend becomes obese, your own chances of obesity go up 57%.

8. It’s an inflammatory disease

Obesity is also considered an inflammatory disease, as excess calories cause an immune response which activates the immune system, causing inflammation. Refined grains like white bread and chips, as well as refined sugars in sweetened drinks and desserts increase inflammation, so eating too much of these foods will hinder the body’s ability to lose fat. Conversely, natural foods, like fruit and vegetables, are full of antioxidants, which have anti-inflammatory properties and may help reduce fat.

9. Burn fat with weights

Cardio workouts alone won’t do much for your weight – you need to do a combination of weights and cardiovascular training, as strength training increases muscle mass which helps the body burn more fat.

10. Hormones affect weight

As well as everyone having a declining metabolic rate as they get older, the change in hormone levels during the menopause causes women to hold on to weight, particularly on their tummies.

11. Alcohol inhibits fat burn

The calories in alcohol can’t be stored for later, so the body’s metabolism has to focus on alcohol first when it’s in the body. This diverts it from its task of burning fat, and fat burn decreases until the alcohol’s dealt with.

12. Fat turns into thin air

A 2014 University of New South Wales study found when people lose weight, most of the fat is breathed out as carbon dioxide and the remaining is excreted as water. The majority of health and fitness professionals questioned wrongly thought lost fat was converted into energy or heat.

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