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How Personal Trainers Can Help to Tackle the UK’s Obesity Epidemic


Even before the Covid-19, Britain was facing a major health crisis – obesity. According to the NHS, around 1 in every 4 adults and around 1 in every 5 children aged 10 to 11 are obese, while 63% of the population, aged 18 or over, are either overweight or obese, equating to an estimated (and rather staggering) 35 million people! Worse still, by 2034, it’s predicted that 70% of the adult population will be overweight or obese. Looking at those stats, it’s no wonder that the UK has been branded “the fat man of Europe,” so what can be done about it?

A simple and reliable way to assess whether someone is a healthy weight is to calculate their body mass index (BMI) which compares the ratio of total body mass to height. 3D body scanning technology is also becoming increasingly popular amongst personal trainers (PTs) and the wider fitness sector as a way of precisely and consistently predicting body composition and evaluating the related health risks. That said, NHS statistics show that having a BMI of 18.5 to 24.9 means you're considered to be a healthy weight. A person with a BMI of 25 to 29.9 is considered to be overweight, and someone with a BMI over 30 is considered to be obese.

Although most people are aware that being obese carries the risk of developing potentially life-threatening conditions, including diabetes, cancer and cardiovascular diseases, Covid-19 has provided them with an extra incentive to do something about it. Research by Public Health England shows that the chance of dying from coronavirus increases by 40% for someone with a BMI between 30 and 35 (obese) and by 90% for those with a BMI over 40 (severely obese) when compared to those with a healthy weight and BMI. The same report found that in intensive care units, 7.9% of critically ill patients with Covid-19 had a BMI over 40 compared with 2.9% of the general population.

Despite people’s increased focus on their health – with Sport England suggesting that almost two-thirds of adults consider exercise to be “more important than ever during the current coronavirus crisis” – 29% of the population have gained weight during the pandemic; something widely dubbed as the “Quarantine Fifteen.” Another study suggests that roughly 22% of adults alone have gained weight as a result of the stay-at-home measures. Reasons for this include inadequate sleep, extra snacking, lack of dietary restraint, eating in response to stress, reduced physical activity, and increased alcohol consumption. This shows that as well as being a lifetime risk, obesity has numerous physical and psychological triggers.

While many factors contribute to obesity – with genetic, hormonal, or hereditary origins also part of the mix – consuming too many high-fat and sugary foods without enough physical activity is often the cause of increasing fat mass/weight beyond healthy levels. In recent years, the government has made certain moves to help turn the tide, such as introducing a sugar tax on soft drinks, with results, so far, indicating that progress is being made. However, campaigners believe that more needs to be done by targeting biscuits, cakes and snacks, which are often loaded with sugar.

In line with this, in 2016, the NHS launched the Diabetes Prevention Programme, drafting in PTs to help reduce people’s risk of Type 2 diabetes through tailored support, which includes education on healthy eating and lifestyle, and physical exercise programmes to help them lose weight. Although the exact causes of diabetes are still not fully understood, a study found that obesity accounts for 80-85% of the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.

Contrary to what some people might think, shifting weight and beating obesity isn’t always as simple as eating less/more healthily and moving more. While sport and exercise can result in high energy expenditure that burns calories, removes toxins, builds muscle mass and “slims you down” – and is, therefore, an essential component of any weight loss programme – physical activity, nutrition and mental health are equally important, and must go hand-in-hand, if a person is to be successful reducing their body fat/weight.

For the average person, however, striking the right balance between a healthy body and a healthy mind can be difficult to achieve, especially given these testing times we’re living through, which is where we – the PTs – come in! As professionals committed to helping people achieve their health and fitness goals to live happier, longer and more fulfilled lives, we can provide the expertise, guidance, accountability and tailored programmes that allow our clients to boost their physical and mental wellbeing to overcome obesity. This, in turn, helps to prevent them from developing cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, certain cancers, and musculoskeletal disorders.

As the NHS has recognised, PTs and other fitness professionals, not to mention nutritionists, wellbeing coaches and mental health practitioners, can play a key role in helping to tackle the obesity epidemic that is sweeping this country, meaning there’s never been a better or more important time to become a PT, as the nation really does need us!

Like we always say, being a PT is one of the most rewarding jobs there is, with the opportunity to make a real and lasting difference to people’s lives and our society in general. If you’re interested in becoming a fully accredited PT or furthering your career, then please take a look at our industry-leading PT qualifications and CPD courses.

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The Training Room | 28/10/2020 09:00:00

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