Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Two news stories on the health risks of obesity are a challenge to Christians

Having just returned from a Christian medical conference where large (especially male) abdomens were very much in evidence I was interested to see that the two lead stories on the BBC health pages this morning deal with the health consequences of obesity.

The first story, published yesterday, reports on a study from the Mayo Clinic which showed that people with coronary artery disease have an increased risk of death if they have fat around the waist.

These US researchers analysed data from five studies involving 15,923 patients, and found this even affected people with a normal Body Mass Index.

There was a 75% increased risk of death for patients with high levels of fat around the waist compared with those with thin waists and even patients with a normal weight, a BMI between 20 and 25, had this increased risk of death if they were carrying fat in that position.

The second story reports on a Swedish study showing that middle aged people who are overweight but not obese, are 71% more likely to develop dementia than those with a normal weight.

The research, published in the journal Neurology, looked at 8,534 Swedish twins. Those with a body mass index (BMI) - which measures weight relative to height - greater than 30, who are classified as obese, were 288% more likely to develop dementia than those with a BMI between 20 and 25.

But there was an effect even for those who were overweight but not obese (BMI between 25 and 30) who were 71% more likely.

Alzheimer's Society head of research, Dr Susanne Sorensen, has commented: ‘This robust study adds to the large body of evidence which suggests that if you pile on the pounds in middle age, your chances of developing dementia later in life are also increased. By eating healthily and exercising regularly, you can lessen your risk of developing dementia.'

Alzheimer's Research UK head of research, Dr Simon Ridley, added: ‘This study adds to existing evidence that excess weight in middle age could increase our risk of developing dementia.’

Now of course dementia is caused by a complex mix of genetic, environmental and lifestyle factors. But it appears that being overweight or obese is one risk factor that can be controlled.’

I have previously blogged about other recent research showing that two-thirds of Britons are overweight or obese – making us the fattest country in Europe.

This means more than 40 million British people are deemed to be at an unhealthy weight.

At the same time a separate study showed that the number of people admitted to hospital for obesity-related illnesses has shot up by more than ten times in the past decade.

The health risks of being overweight are significant. Obesity isn't just an issue of personal health either. The cost to the NHS and to the wider economy - because of increasing time off work - is estimated at about £7 billion per year, of which £1 billion is direct health service costs.

The risks are higher as BMI increases for type 2 diabetes (20 times greater for those who are very obese), cancer (10 per cent of all cancer deaths among non-smokers are related to obesity), coronary heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure (85 per cent of hypertension associated with a BMI greater than 25) and fatty liver (affects 90% of obese people and may lead to cirrhosis).

Last week CMF published a paper showing that Christians generally enjoy better health than those without faith – and attributed this in large part to better lifestyle choices - but judging by the number of BMIs visibly over 30 at the annual conference we have a lot of inroads to make on obesity.

Christians do seem to be at least as prone to obesity as those in the general population. But when did you actually last hear a sermon on overeating or exercise?

Maybe that’s part of the problem.

Of course we never know when God might call us home through trauma or disease – but given that there are clear links between obesity, sickness and death – we may well, by taking care about diet and exercise, be lessening the chance that our spouses and children will be bereaved, or looking after us in a dependent state, ahead of time.

So if you are – if only ever-so-slightly – on the plump side then today might be the day to start doing something about it.

My former post contains information about weight loss and A much fuller treatment of the issue of obesity from a Christian perspective can be found on the CMF website. See Facing the Obesity Epidemic


  1. I am a christian, and rather obese Dr. Saunders. It came about as a result of my depression at being childless, plus a general lack of good health for many years (not problems caused by being overweight, by the way). It's not a "choice" I made, it just happened. I try periodically but am weak-willed, like many others. Is this a sin? If so, I hope God will forgive me for this, as for my many other sins. For what it's worth, my husband says he likes it that I'm soft and "cuddly", and does not seem to mind the extra inches in the slightest.

    >> Having just returned from a Christian medical conference where large (especially male) abdomens were very much in evidence

    May I ask what conference this was? Did you tell the attendees they should lose weight?

    If I may repectfully suggest, it is not enough to lecture people on their weight, without offering some sort of emotional support to help them achieve the weight loss. Many of us over-eat and underexercise due to emotional reasons, not because we are lazy. I hope you appreciate that.

    Best wishes,

  2. Do you keep fit yourself? If you are going to preach to us about obesity, Peter, then you need to post some pictures of yourself looking fit, so we can really believe you practise what you preach!


  3. My main aim in writing this was to draw attention to the health risks of obesity because many people are literally killing themselves through overeating.

    Dealing with the issue is not easy but the first step is to admit that one has a problem. The second is to acknowledge that one is eating too much and not exercising enough. The third is to ask why. And fourth to seek help to change.

    Keeping weight normal is not easy. Which is why so many fail to do it and many of us overeat for emotional reasons. But admitting that we are in fact fat and acknowledging that it is not a good way to be is the first step to change.

    The conference was the CMF national conference and most attendees were doctors.

  4. A rather condescending reply, which does not really help any obese readers here who've chosen to post. Do you really think they don't KNOW they have a problem, and seek to change?
    What kind of help do you suggest for these folk?

  5. OK. For those who are really serious about doing something about it I would suggest:

    1. Acknowldege to yourself and others that the real reason you are overweight/obese is because you overeat and underexercise

    2. Ask yourself and others honestly why you do overeat and underexercise - for some hints see http://bit.ly/26IC3

    3. Be honest with yourself and others about the excuses you are currently using for being fat - see http://bit.ly/9RE4RY

    4. Team up with some friends who are serious about doing something about it

  6. I'm sure you mean well, but frankly that is another condescending response. It is a fact that some people are naturally thin and need LESS exercise than others, in order to maintain a healthy BMI. There are other people, however, who need to be far more active in order to stay within the same range as the first lot. This latter group need not necessarily be "over-eating" (what a ridiculously simplistic idea) in order for the weight to creep up on them. It is true they must be under-exercising, though, since this is the group that actually needs MORE exercise than the genetically thin group.

    Asking yourself why you are over-weight is not going to solve anything. I doubt there is anyone on the planet who does not know the reasons for their own obesity.

    The important thing is to get help to overcome whatever is hindering you. This is, of course, easier said than done for most people.

    I suspect, Dr. Saunders, that you are one of those blessed with a naturally thin constitution, who doesn't have to work very hard to stay thin. Have a little sympathy for those who are NOT similarly blessed. Some folk have shitty lives which make them over-eat and depressed and unable to exercise. These folk would be better off seeing their GPs for anti-depressants, instead of following the futile suggestions you have listed (i.e. introspection as to the root cause - which they already know).

  7. It's a general perception that christian women are more conscious about the way they look. So, in the case of obese women, they are twice as likely to be victimized in comparison to obese men. Unfair treatment of obese people is so rampant in nature that it not only affects workplace environment, but can also weaken friendships and relationships with friends and loved ones.


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