Obesity is now the most common nutritional problem in the industrialised world. The prevalence of obesity has risen sharply over the last 40 years and the World Health Organisation (WHO) designated it as one of the greatest threats to public health in the 21st century.
Obesity occurs when more energy or calories are consumed than are used during a certain period of time. The extent to which obesity affects health is established, but not completely understood. We know with certainty that obesity in the abdominal region predisposes to type 2 diabetes and gallstones. Obesity also is a risk factor for back, hip and knee problems such as arthritis and also for high blood pressure. High blood pressure is in turn a risk factor for heart attack and stroke. There is also increasing evidence for a link between obesity and certain forms of cancer. The problem is not confined to adults. It is generally recognised that children and young people have a higher than recommended intake of sugar and there is a rising incidence of type II diabetes in this group as well as in adults.
The composition of the diet is very important. A high fat diet seems to predispose more significantly to obesity than a high carbohydrate diet.
It is important to take a psychosocial approach to the understanding of obesity, rather than simply a medical approach, that might tend to “blame” the overweight person for their behaviour. We have to consider other socio-economic factors such as food availability, pricing and advertising. For example, there is a worrying, growing social trend in relation to healthy diet and the prevalence of obesity. In general, groups with a higher educational status and higher income have a more healthy diet with increased intake of fruit and vegetables than those with lower socioeconomic status. Similarly, children of parents with higher educational status tend to have healthier and more regular meals than children of parents with lower educational status.