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Good news: the power to build a healthy future is in your hands. Here’s why it’s essential to maintain a healthy weight throughout your life.
Targeting a healthy body weight is now identified as the major focus to secure our health future according to new research published in Preventive Medicine. The US researchers reveal that tackling the obesity issue, along with lowering smoking rates worldwide, has “the greatest potential for reducing burden for nine chronic diseases”, including cardiovascular disease – the leading cause of death in men and women in Australia. Further, with one-third of Australian disease burden in 2011 being preventable, the message is that good lifestyle habits – not smoking, maintaining a healthy body weight, reducing high-blood pressure, limiting alcohol, and being physically active – have a majorly positive impact on our health. The best part? They’re within our control.
We hear it often because it’s serious. “One of the most alarming health conditions these days is the obesity epidemic,” says Dr John Mayhew, New Zealand Warriors rugby league team doctor and member of the Best Doctors global network of specialists. The World Health Organization (WHO) says more than one billion people globally are overweight - 300 million of them clinically obese. Closer to home, 28 per cent of Australians adults are obese with more than 60 per cent being overweight.
There are many negative consequences of being obese, one being that it can lead to several harmful health conditions. “Diabetes, heart disease and cancer are more common in obese people,” says Dr Mayhew. Being overweight and obese also increases the risk of high-blood pressure and high cholesterol, both modifiable risk factors for heart disease and other chronic conditions, including type 2 diabetes. There are flow-on effects, too. “Treatment of obese people can be difficult,” says Dr Mayhew. “They often have complications with surgery and spend more post-operative time in hospital.”
There is good news, though. “A 10 per cent reduction in body mass index (BMI) can see dramatic improvements in health,” says Dr Mayhew. But BMI shouldn’t be the only measure (for example, rugby players and weightlifters may have a high BMI but not high body fat), other factors are important. “Weight above the belt is disadvantageous to health,” says Dr Mayhew. Waist circumference shouldn’t exceed 94cm in males and 80cm in women.
Even though the WHO states 75 per cent of cardiovascular disease cases are attributed to poor lifestyle, it can be challenging to improve those habits. “It’s easy for a health professional to say, ‘eat healthier, exercise more, reduce your alcohol intake’, but it’s very hard for people to do. Dietary habits are formed in childhood and they’re engendered by our family environment,” says Dr Mayhew. “There’s also a plethora of weight-loss programs that are ineffective,” he adds. So, what’s the answer? Firstly, forget fad diets. The doctor’s advice is common sense. “We need to continue to educate people that they need to eat a nutritious, well-balanced diet over a long period of time.”
The obesity issue is complex and it’s tricky to pinpoint specific causes, but one interesting reason is the way many of us work. A 2011 US study found that moderate physical activity in the corporate sector dropped from about 50 per cent in the 1960s to less than 20 per cent. “Not many jobs now are physically demanding,” says Dr Mayhew. “In the past, exercise was part of life, even working life, but now we must formalise activity – it has to become part of life,” says Dr Mayhew. “We need about 30-40 minutes each day, five or six times a week,” he adds. But remember, any movement is better than none. Try walking to and from work or parking your car further away, or getting off public transport a few stops early, and taking the stairs instead of the lift. One crucial tip is to find what works for you. “There’s no use jogging five times a week if you hate it,” explains Dr Mayhew. “A successful program is one you can stick to.”
With an eligible policy from MLC Life Insurance, you and certain of your family members can access Best Doctors – a service which connects you with a network of more than 50,000 leading medical specialists from Australia and around the world for a second medical opinion when you need it most, helping to ensure you have the right diagnosis and treatment plan. Learn more about Best Doctors.
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