Body Composition - Too Much Fat?
By WLR's Site Manager, Laurence Beeken
“Recent figures show that 63% of men and 54% of women in England have a BMI of more than 25; are overweight or obese” British Nutrition Foundation
Learn more about the risks involved with carrying excess body fat, why body composition is important and simple ways to measure it.
Too Much Fat!?
More people around the world are obese than ever before. It’s a massive issue – affecting men and women; young and old; rich and poor. Obesity poses a huge public health problem as excess body fat contributes to an array of medical conditions/diseases. Not maintaining a healthy weight for your height can greatly increase your risk of contracting conditions such as Coronary Heart Disease, Diabetes, some Cancers and other conditions such as Gallstones.
For Tips on how to reduce your body fat and information on what normal body fat is, take a look at Lyndel Costain's article Body Fat: Distribution, Reduction and Ideal,
Coronary Heart Disease
According to the British Nutrition Foundation, heart disease affects more than 1.4 million people in the U.K.
One of the biggest causes of heart disease is a process called atherosclerosis (narrowing of the blood vessels). This happens when fat accumulates in the blood vessels, then goes through a process resulting in the walls of the vessels becoming thicker. This thickening leads to a reduced flow of blood to the heart. One common sign of this is angina (chest pain). (see Healthy Heart Diet)
Diabetes (Type II)
Type II diabetes, also known as ‘Non-insulin dependant diabetes’, is often found in those who are carrying too much body fat. Obesity is thought to be a considerable risk factor for contraction of type II diabetes.
Diabetes is a result of glucose levels in the blood being too high. As the management of glucose levels in the body relies on insulin, this happens when the body’s ability to produce insulin is impaired. Type II diabetes develops when the body produces some, but not all, of the insulin needed. It can also develop when the body is not able to use the insulin that is produced properly. Most cases of type II diabetes are managed by diet alone, with a few cases needing drug treatments alongside the regulation of diet.
Today, the best advice for sufferers of type II diabetes is to eat healthily and try to maintain a healthy weight for your height. A balanced diet with plenty of fruit & vegetables, and the bulk of starchy foods, means that the type II diabetic can consume a small amount of sugar - and foods containing sugar can be included (on a small scale) in the day to day diet.
Diet has a greater influence on some cancers than others. This influence can be protective or contributory.
It is widely accepted that antioxidants contained in fresh fruits and vegetables can help to protect against the majority of cancers. It is also accepted that maintaining a healthy weight for your height reduces risk. It is thought that being obese increases risk. Also, those who have too much body fat tend to eat a diet high in fat content - with less fruit & vegetables, therefore not taking advantage of their protective qualities.
According to The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), people who maintain a healthy weight are less likely to develop gallstones. Gallstones are clusters of solid materials – mostly cholesterol, which form in the gallbladder. In some cases, the gallstones are ‘silent’, producing no symptoms. However, some can cause pain, and can even be life – threatening if the stones block pancreatic secretions (Pancreatitis). The most common symptom is a severe steady pain in the upper abdomen.
Obesity is a key risk factor in the development of gallstones. A diet high in fat can cause bile within the gallbladder to become saturated with cholesterol, causing gallstones to form. ‘Silent’ gallstones are usually left alone to disappear. Generally, if gallstones are causing discomfort or posing a risk to health, the gallbladder is removed by way of surgery.
Measuring Your Body Fat
As obesity poses many health risks, measuring your body fat to help keep within healthy ranges can greatly reduce the risk of conditions such as those listed above. Obesity is most commonly defined in terms of BMI (Body Mass Index). It is considered normal to have a BMI of 18.5-25. Above 25 is defined as overweight and above 30 is obese.
You can calculate your BMI easily by using this simple formula:
HEIGHT (M) x HEIGHT (M)
There are a few different ways to measure your body fat percentage: from being immersed in a tank of water and measuring the displacement, to standing on a piece of equipment that resembles bathroom scales. Some simple ways to do it at home include ‘Waist – to – hip ratio’ and ‘Bioelectrical Impedance’.
Waist – to – Hip Ratio
Where fat is distributed on the body can be a good indicator of overweight/obesity. A lot of fat deposited in the abdominal area can put someone at increased risk of obesity related diseases.
To carry out this calculation, you need to measure (in cm or inches) your waist at the narrowest part – just above the navel. Make a note of the measurement then do the same around your hips at the widest possible part. Your waist to hip ratio is then determined by dividing the waist measurement by the hip measurement.
For an average man, a ratio of 0.94 and above poses a health risk. The average woman – a ratio of 0.82 and above defines risk.
Note – If you want to be as accurate as possible, take 3 different measurements for each area. Use the smallest measurement of the three for your waist, and the largest for your hip.
Bioelectrical Impedance Analysis
This method measures body fat by sending a (safe) signal through the body. This signal passes freely through lean tissue such as muscle, but encounters resistance when passing through fatty tissue. This resistance is termed ‘bioelectrical impedance’.
This is the method used by most electrical body fat monitors. Looking a little like bathroom scales, the monitors use this reading in conjunction with other information, such as gender, height and weight, to calculate a body fat percentage.
Reducing the Risks
With all the risks associated with obesity and carrying too much body fat, it can be of great benefit to your health to maintain a healthy weight for your height, and stay within healthy BMI ranges. Keeping your body fat in check and ensuring your body composition is healthy can go a long way toward longevity and quality of life.
Please note- If you think you may have any of the conditions detailed in this article, or are worried in any way about your health, consult your doctor.
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