Beating Back Obesity

4th March is World Obesity Day, which is more relevant than ever in 2021 in the midst of the current pandemic.

In July 2020 Public Health England published a report (Excess Weight and COVID-19) which stated that people who are obese were more likely to require hospitalisation due to covid and more likely to die from it. Obesity is defined as having a BMI (body mass index) of 30 or over and the higher above 30 someone’s BMI is the greater their risk of dying from covid. In the UK around 1 in 4 adults and 1 in 5 children are obese. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has spoken publicly about suffering severely with COVID while he was obese and how it has motivated him to change his diet and do more exercise to get down to a healthier weight.

For Caucasians a healthy BMI is between 18.5 and 24.9, and for Black, Asian and other minority ethnic groups a healthy BMI is between 18.5 and 23.

In England, we’re now in our 3rd national lockdown and many of us have had a very different lifestyle to usual over the last year. Some people have been joining in with P.E. with Joe Wicks every morning, or have followed the Couch to 5k and are fitter than they’ve been in years. Some people have learnt to bake sourdough and found a new love in cooking from scratch and healthy eating.

However, the lockdown hasn’t had a positive effect on everyone’s health. Lots of sports and leisure activities have been put on hold and working from home has made many of us a lot less active, especially during the cold winter days when a walk may not seem very appealing. Many of us have been under a lot of stress with job losses, financial insecurity, juggling work and home-schooling etc, and many of us are dealing with the grief of losing a loved one and the isolation caused social distancing. These pressures can cause people to over-eat or eat unhealthy foods which can cause them to gain weight. Uncertainty about food supplies may lead people to buy more long-life foods and less fresh produce, potentially making their diets less healthy, although tinned and frozen fruits and vegetables are a good source of nutrients. This may mean that more people are becoming obese.

But it’s never too late to make positive changes towards a healthier lifestyle. Getting active and maintaining a healthy BMI will not only reduce your risk of a severe covid infection but also type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke and certain cancers. 

It’s important to lose weight in a healthy way;

  • eat plenty of fruits vegetables, at least 5 portions a day if possible. Fresh, frozen and tinned all count.
  • base meals on higher fibre starchy foods like potatoes, wholegrain pasta and bread, and brown rice
  • eat some protein, e.g. beans, pulses, fish, eggs, meat
  • have some dairy or a dairy alternative
  • choose unsaturated fats (from plants, eg. Olive oil) over saturated fats (from animal products, eg. butter) 
  • limit the amount of sugar, salt and fat in your diet by only having a small amount of less healthy foods such as biscuits, cakes, sweets and crisps
  • drink 6-8 glasses of fluids a day to stay hydrated

See the Eatwell Guide for more information.

To lose weight you need to burn more calories than you eat and it is recommended that men stick to 1,900 kcal and women 1,400 kcal a day for healthy weight loss. Fad diets and quick fixes should be avoided, as scientific evidence shows that eating a healthy balanced and varied diet is the best way to achieve and maintain a healthy BMI long term. You can visit the NHS website or speak to your GP for more advice. 

The BSc (Hons) Nutrition with Professional Practice course at UCO explores the health problems caused by obesity and how public health policies and campaigns can work to reduce obesity in the population. Practical classes explore ways to make different foods healthier and help clients to improve their diets using psychological tools and communication techniques.


Dr Susie Jennings is Senior Lecturer and Unit Leader for BSc (Hons) Nutrition with Professional Practice. She is a Registered Nutritionist specialising in Nutrition Science. Susie has an very strong interest in mental and physical wellbeing and the arts and performs as part of a fire dance troupe. She also enjoys preparing cuisines from around the world using sustainable plant-based ingredients.

The BSc (Hons) Nutrition with Professional Practice course at UCO explores the health problems caused by obesity and how public health policies and campaigns can work to reduce obesity in the population. Practical classes explore ways to make different foods healthier and help clients to improve their diets using psychological tools and communication techniques.

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