According to the Health Survey for England (2019), it is estimated that 28.0% of adults in England are obese and a further 36.2% are overweight.1
Overweight and obesity are defined by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as “abnormal or excessive fat accumulation that may impair health”.2 We are experiencing a silent but deadly global obesity epidemic known to be the fifth leading risk for global deaths 3. The media often report the significance of obesity as a risk factor for noncommunicable physical health diseases including diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and musculoskeletal disorders, however, the general public are still led to believe that obesity is solely under personal control and that dieting, and fitness regimes are a quick and easy fix.4
Public Health England state that there is a compelling base of evidence to suggest that having a healthy diet is one of the most important ways to keep healthy and avoid becoming overweight. 5 Nonetheless, in today’s society, we are living in an obesogenic environment where unhealthy choices are easy, accessible and more affordable, with over 50,000 fast food and take-away shops in England alone. 5 It is no wonder people find it difficult to eat healthily all the time. To add to this, obesity is also attributable to the fact that most people are uneducated on the fundamental causes of obesity and are conditioned into thinking it is a personal choice, and as a result are convinced that they should follow unrealistic and restricting ‘fad’ diets (an extreme and widely shared enthusiasm for something, also known as a craze, that is usually short-lived). We have all been there, the 1st of January, setting new year’s resolutions to “lose some weight”, and with 45 million people in the United States starting a weight loss program every year, we are certainly not alone.6
Dieting is a multibillion-dollar global industry, with the UK diet industry alone worth a staggering £2bn a year. This highlights the number of companies who are selling weight-loss programmes, often without the necessary medical and scientific evidence to support them.7
We are certainly not restricted to one type of novelty diet either, the list of diet fads that are circulating the internet and social media are endless: the Ketogenic (high-fat, adequate-protein, low-carbohydrate), Atkins (low-carbohydrate), 5:2 (intermittent fasting - a pattern of timing cycles between fasting and eating), Juice Cleanses (5-day detox plans) and Skinny Teas (weight loss, slimming tea bags). All of the above focus on either limiting certain food groups, restricting yourself to eating certain things or even starving yourself for long periods of time! It all sounds pretty unsustainable and unhealthy, doesn’t it? Admittedly, most do lead to fast and dramatic weight loss, however what people aren’t aware of is, that this often doesn’t last.
Most people get fed-up and frustrated with the restrictions and soon revert to their previous pattern of eating, often eating more to make up for it, so it doesn’t take long for the pounds to creep back on. In fact, studies show that 95% of dieters end up gaining weight in the long-term, returning to their original weight within 1-5 years. So instead of suffering through a short-term period of starvation and restriction, people who want to or need to lose weight should consider more long-term behavioural and sustainable changes. The WHO advise people wanting to lose weight to limit their energy intake from total fats and sugars and increase consumption of fruit and vegetables, as well as legumes, whole grains, and nuts, but certainly not cut any of them out entirely! Eating satisfying and yummy foods now and then will actually make you more likely to stick to a plan and achieve your goals, so my advice would be to eat that piece of cake if you want it!
1. Health Survey for England 2019 (2020) NHS.
2. Obesity and Overweight (2021) World Health Organization.
3. Media and Its Influence on Obesity (Stanford and colleagues 2019) In PubMed Central.
4. Obesity Statistics. The European Association for the Study of Obesity.
5. Health Matters: Obesity and the Food Environment (2017) Public Health England.
6. The Rise of Fad Diets (2021) CNBC.
7. 4 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Follow the Latest Diet. British Heart Foundation.
8. Encyclopaedia of Diet fads (Bijefeld & Zoumbaris, 2013).