Step away from the cake, sister

New evidence is suggesting that weight loss, for those heavier than medically recommended, could have more health benefits than previously thought, especially for women.

Care UK’s head of nursing and clinical services, Elaine Bodle explains the evidence and makes some suggestions for women looking to maintain a healthy weight.

She said: “According to a 2017 parliamentary briefing paper, 27 per cent of adults in England are obese and a further 36 per cent are overweight. Obesity increases the risk of health conditions, including joint problems, lower back pain, high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke, Type 2 diabetes, three major cancers (endometrial, breast and colon), menstrual abnormalities and stress incontinence (peeing involuntarily when you sneeze or run).

“According to Cancer Research UK, breast cancer is the most common cancer in the UK. Excess weight raises the risk of breast cancer because fat cells produce hormones that encourage tumours. A recently published paper, produced by researchers in the US tracking 61,355 women for 14 years, showed those women who lost five per cent of their body weight were 12 per cent less likely to develop breast cancer than those whose weight stayed the same.

“And the risk fell by 37 per cent for postmenopausal women who slimmed down by 15 per cent. In real terms, for a 52-year-old, 12-stone woman, who is five feet five inches tall, this would mean losing almost two stone, bringing her down to a BMI (Body Mass Index) score of 23.

“Other studies over the last 12 months have showed the health benefits of maintaining a healthy BMI of between 18.5 and 24.9. The NHS has a very easy to use calculator so that you can keep an eye on your BMI.

“Researchers at Harvard University’s School of Public Health linked middle-aged spread to health risks in later life. In the study, the first of its kind to examine systematically the association of weight gain from early to middle adulthood with major health risks later in life, researchers analysed health data from 118,140 study participants. On average women gained 22 pounds over early to middle adulthood while men gained 19 pounds.

“The researchers found those who gained a moderate amount of weight had an increased risk of major chronic diseases and premature death. They were less likely to score well on a healthy ageing assessment of physical and cognitive health when compared to those who kept their weight stable, gaining or losing no more than five pounds.

“But there was also good news from Harvard University, published in the New England Journal of Medicine. It reported that improving your food choices in line with the Mediterranean diet would have positive effects. Diets that emphasise eating whole grains, fruits and vegetables and lean protein (limiting unhealthy fat, sodium, sugar-sweetened and processed foods and red meat) could boost heart health.

“Small shifts in daily diet were shown to have benefits. For example, according to the researchers, swapping one serving of red meat a day for a serving of nuts or beans would lead to a 20 per cent improvement in diet quality. And just eating more fruits and vegetables – going from no daily servings to four servings of fruit or five servings of vegetables – raised the scores by 10 per cent.

“Elsewhere, researchers from New York City’s Hospital for Special Surgery and Weill Cornell Medical School published a paper that examined data from an observational trial of patients with early rheumatoid arthritis, with the aim of finding out how excess weight may affect the likelihood of the disease disappearing from the body when treated at an early stage.

“The Hospital for Special Surgery specialises in orthopaedic surgery and the treatment of rheumatological conditions. Its study involved 982 patients – 32 per cent had a healthy body mass index (BMI), 35 per cent were overweight and 33 per cent were obese. Within three years, 36 per cent of the total had experienced sustained remission from the condition.

“But compared with patients with a healthy BMI, the overweight were 25 per cent and the obese 47 per cent less likely to experience sustained remission despite receiving similar treatment.

“So, if you’re concerned about being overweight, visit the NHS BMI calculator and see where you are on the scale. There are lots of easy steps to take, such as joining a weight loss group, becoming a gym member, walking even part of the way to work and having a diet high in fruit and vegetables and low in saturated fat.

“You can also cut back on alcohol and sugary drinks and substitute them with water and herbal teas. The NHS has a free online, 12-week weight loss programme packed with support and advice.

“If you have a significant amount of weight to lose, or your weight is not shifting despite cutting back on calories and taking the governments recommended 150 minutes exercise a week, make an appointment with your GP or practice nurse for support and guidance.”