Around three-quarters of us are overweight or obese. The government health watchdog says slimming classes can help and it is time to drop the “for goodness sake pull yourself together” attitude.
New guidance from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) says that, for obese or overweight people, losing even 3 per cent of their body weight can make a big difference.
It recommends that GPs should identify people who need help with their weight and point them towards slimming classes like Weight Watchers, Slimming World and Rosemary Conley.
Director of the centre for public health at Nice Professor Mike Kelly said obesity was costing the British economy and the NHS billions of pounds a year.
It is not just a question of ‘for goodness sake pull yourself together and lose a stone’ – it doesn’t work like that. Professor Mike Kelly, Nice
Obesity increases the risk of serious conditions including diabetes, heart disease, and some cancers. Professor Kelly said a “staggering” total of 42 per cent of men and 32 per cent of women are overweight and more than a quarter of adults in England are now classified as obese – and the situation is getting worse. But he acknowledged that losing weight was difficult.
“This is difficult, people find it difficult to do,” he said. “It is not something where you can just wake up one morning and say ‘I am going to lose 10llbs’ – it takes resolve, it takes encouragement, and one of the things about involvement in these programmes is the mutual support from others who try to do the same thing seems to be hugely helpful from a motivational point of view.
“It is not just a question of ‘for goodness sake pull yourself together and lose a stone’ – it doesn’t work like that, what we are trying to acknowledge here is the reality that people carrying excess weight face.”
Fighting the flab around the globe
Obesity is not just a UK problem, and ours is not the only government scrabbling for a solution - some weirder than others.
In New York, Mayor Bloomberg banned super-sized servings of fizzy drinks.
In Dubai, land of the plenty, the government paid people to drop the pounds in an initiative called "your weight in gold".
Japan has a "maximum waistline" measurement by law - those who exceed the "metabo law" must attend support sessions.
Others argue that, in the developed world, it's time to accept we are bigger people in a more bountiful time. Last month, a council caused a storm by building bigger grave plots nearer the roadside for heavier corpses (so the undertakers did not have to carry the load too far). Hospitals have had to build wider doors, sturdier beds and even winches. And some support the choice to be fat: "fatkinis", swimsuits for larger sizes became a feminist issue last year, and Britain hosted the "Fattylympics".
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Nice says the classes, which are funded by local councils in some areas, should include diet and physical activity guidance but most importantly should encourage behavioural change, to help people keep the weight off.
The classes have been proven to help people at 12 to 18 months, and the watchdog suggested Public Health England could be a source of information for GPs and councils on which programmes to commission for patients.
Studies show that fat people who lose more than 5 per cent of their body weight experience real health benefits. Nice says even 3 per cent is a step in the right direction – although the more the better for people who need to lose weight.