Obesity has been linked to a number of serious health concerns in the past. But have we underestimated the true dangers of excess weight and what this can do to our bodies?
I was recently reading a new report from BBC news which confirmed that obesity is responsible for more cases of some types of cancer than smoking.[i] This is harrowing news, and something that we, as dental professionals, need to bear in mind going forward, especially as the UK is currently suffering from what many term as an “obesity crisis”.
Obesity in the UK
According to NHS statistics, as many as 1 in 4 adults in the UK are obese. Children are not exempt from these worrying figures, and the NHS estimates that as many as 1 in 5 are significantly overweight as well.[ii] This means that the UK is now the sixth fattest nation in the world, closely following countries such as Australia and Hungary, but still showing considerably lower levels that the top country – the United States. However, despite having lower figures than the USA, rates of obesity in the UK are rising faster – meaning that perhaps we’ll be catching them up sooner rather than later.[iii]
Obesity rates also vary significantly depending on where in the UK you are from. According to a visual graph of the UK featured in The Telegraph, the most obese area of the UK is Rotheram, South Yorkshire where over 75% of inhabitants are obese or overweight. On the other end of the scale is Camden, London where 46.5% of inhabitants fall into this category. Although the discrepancy between the two areas is huge, the lower end of the scale is hardly comforting. If almost 50% of the population being considered overweight is the most positive figure, it just proves that more needs to be done to tackle levels of obesity nationwide.
But how do we calculate obesity in the modern age? One of the classic ways of measuring it is to look at someone’s Body Mass Index (BMI). This is calculated by comparing the weight and height of the person, but often incorporates other factors such as age, gender, activity levels and even ethnicity. By comparing these factors, a person will be calculated a BMI score. This is a quick and easy way to see if someone is overweight for their height (though it is worth noting that this score isn’t always necessarily accurate).
Why is obesity so dangerous?
Firstly, obesity has been linked to a number of possibly life-threatening health conditions including coronary heart disease and diabetes. Initially, obesity was only really linked with increased bowel and breast cancer rates, however, as previously mentioned, new findings suggest that it also causes many cases of kidney, liver and ovarian cancer too. What’s particularly interesting about these new findings is that they have linked more types of cancer to obesity than what many perceive to be larger health threats such as smoking.
Of course, smoking is still a huge health concern, and remains the highest cause of preventable cancer in the UK. What this new research does suggest, however, is that we have underestimated the true danger of obesity, and that the obesity crisis could be far more deadly than originally envisioned.
What can dental professionals do?
Of course, as a dental health professional, it’s not as simple as telling patients that they need to lose weight. Weight is a touchy subject, and the last thing you want to do is insult your patients or make them feel like your practice is no longer a safe and understanding environment.
What you can do is talk to patients about sugar consumption and their diet, and how this is likely to affect their teeth. Excess sugar consumption has repeatedly been identified as one of the leading causes of obesity, as well as being held responsible for the growing calorie values of certain foods. Since the beginning of mass-production corn fructose in the 1970s, sweet, highly sugary and unhealthy snacks have become considerably cheaper, making them highly accessible for all.[iv]
Although we can’t assume that every case of obesity is linked to excess sugar consumption, it is definitely something worth mentioning, especially if a patient’s teeth are showing signs of decay that is likely caused by high levels of sugary treats.
In the end, the battle against obesity in the UK is one that we all need to join in order to win the war. By warning patients about the importance of a good diet and avoiding too much sugar, you are doing your bit to keep their health under control as well as ensuring they eat better foods for their oral health.
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[iii] The Telegraph. Britain Sixth Fattest Nation in the World – And Rates Rising Faster Than United States. Link: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/11/10/britain-sixth-fattest-nation-world-rising-faster-united-states/ [Last accessed July 19].