Thursday, May 31, 2012

Fat by another name

“I am your mother”, I often say to my children in response to them asking a question; a question that I’m not sure that they want an honest answer to.

“You know I will give you an honest answer", I add. "Are you sure you want to hear it”? More often than not they mentally brace themselves and indicate that they do want to hear what I have to say.

Although I believe in giving honest answers, I am also aware that I am fully responsible for the way that my words are delivered and to some extent felt by the receiving party. This is particularly true when I speak to young children/teens.

That said, I don’t think it right or fair to water down the truth to such an extent that the essence of the message is lost.

This week the All Party Parliamentary Group on Body Image has called for the use of “weight-neutral language" rather than labelling people fat, overweight or obese. The reason being, that these words have negative connotations and adversely impact body image and self-esteem.

"It's clear that there's something seriously wrong in society when children as a young as five are worrying about their appearance, based on the messages they are seeing all around them," said Rosi Prescott Central YMCA chief executive.

The problem arises when you try to decide what words to use instead; ‘full figured’ perhaps? Then there is the issue of the new words themselves gaining native overtones over time, resulting in the need for cyclic (politically correct) adaptation. 

Personally, I advocate the appropriate and (if required) empathetic use of words that best fit the situation.

The All party group have also recommended that school children should take part in compulsory body image and self-esteem lessons; lessons that we have been delivering for quite some time.  Workshop


Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Debating BMI

The government’s official stance when it comes to classifying a person’s weight is to use their body mass index (BMI). It is calculated by dividing weight (kilograms) by height squared. BMI rates someone as underweight, normal, overweight, obese or clinically obese.

I have never been a fan of BMI, largely because I’ve always perceived it to be inaccurate. My BMI reading categorises me as overweight. This is because BMI doesn’t take into account the fact that I am very muscular; the result of exercising 3 times a week for over twenty five years. Similarly, my 6ft brother, who is a very muscular as a consequence of his regimented weight training, is rated clinically obese, despite the fact that he has low levels of body fat. This means we are both classified as less healthy than our fatter, but lighter counterparts.

Another problem with BMI, it does not distinguish between fat in different parts of the body. Fat in the abdomen, and surrounding the heart, liver and kidneys, has been identified as being more detrimental to health than fat deposited on the bottom or hips.

Dissatisfaction with BMI is not new. In October 2006 the BBC reported that some health organisations, including the World Health Organization, wanted to introduce a more accurate (perceived) ‘hip-to-waist ratio’ system. At the time the Department of Health spokeswoman responded with the following statement.

"We are aware of criticism ….but this is the agreed system and we will continue to use it."

The BMI debate is once again in the headlines. This month researchers (UK), who studied 300,000 people, concluded that a waist to height measurement was a more accurate predictor (than BMI) of health issues such as high blood pressure, diabetes, strokes and heart attacks.

"Keeping your waist circumference to less than half your height can help increase life expectancy for every person in the world," said Dr Margaret Ashwell (who lead the study).

Whether you use BMI, ‘hip to waist’ or ‘waist to height’, the result will (at best) be applicable to most people. There will always be exceptions to the rule.


Friday, May 25, 2012

Jessica Ennis - Fat?

Last weekend I congratulated a friend about her successful weight loss. She has been on a diet since having a baby 16 months ago.

“Thanks”, she replied, “I wish I could lose my stomach”. Grabbing considerably more than an inch, she continued, “Nothing I do works; it just won’t budge”, she groaned.

“Give it time”, I responded reassuringly. “The warm weather is here. A daily power walk with the pushchair and eating seasonal fresh fruit and salad will help”.

“Mmm “, she said unconvinced.

Another abdomen was the centre of a mini storm this week. The abdomen in question, complete with six pack, belongs to 26 year old Olympic heptathlete Jessica Ennis. Jessica’s stomach, with its clearly defined muscle and little observable fat, is
the kind of stomach my friend (and many other women) would love to have.

I was therefore surprised to read (The Guardian) comments from Toni Minichiell (Jessica Ennis’s coach) detailing his outrage that a senior Olympic official “who should know better” had stated that Jessica was “fat and she's got too much weight”.

The last thing Jessica (or any athlete for that matter) needs is body image and self confidence issues, on top of the existing pressures associated with the run up to the Olympics and the games themselves.

I am sure Jessica wouldn’t be the success that she is, without inner strength. That should help her forge ahead and live to her own not others (unrealistic) standards.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Children undergoing cosmetic surgery


Figures out this week reveal that, during the last three years, 17 young boys have had breast “moobs” reduction surgery on the NHS. The total number of boys, some as young as 10, undergoing the operation is unknown, as the number of private cases are not publicised.

30 adult NHS patients have undergone the surgery, making breast reduction the second most popular male cosmetic procedure; nose operations holds the number one position.

“It is not clear why we are seeing so many boys undergoing male breast reduction surgery”, commented Diane Abbott (shadow public health minister). “But”, she surmised, “it must be something to do with this country's obesity epidemic”.

It should be noted that some of the operations may have been carried out to remove breast tissue; a condition known as Gynecomastia. This would be associated with body image and self esteem issues, not weight.

Currently a third of UK children have been classified as overweight or obese. This is expected to almost double (60%) by 2050.

The rise in childhood obesity levels correlate with the increase in numbers of teens (20 the past two years) that have undergone weight loss surgery on the NHS. An unknown number of children have had the operation aboard.

I’m sure the NHS will only perform obesity related surgery on children as a last resort; once all other educational, healthier and less invasive options have all been exhausted.


Friday, May 18, 2012

Eating without thinking

This weeks Channel 4 programme Secret Eaters was an eye opener for siblings Jill Hamill (40) and Stuart Raphel (36). Both believed that they were not eating enough and were subsequently perplexed by their continued weight gain.

Jill’s weight had recently increased to 13 stones 12 pounds from ten and a half stones.

“I don’t feel that I do eat too much”, she said. “Maybe I don’t eat enough. At lunch time I have a salad with chicken or something, so I need to know what I’m doing wrong and why nothing is working…….My current weight I just find it disgusting. It breaks my heart that I just can’t seem to lose it”.

Stuart ‘s weight had increased by more than 2 stones to sixteen and a half stones. He wanted to get back to fourteen and a half stones, because he felt healthier and wants to see his chin and jaw line again.

“A man is supposed to have 2500 calories a day”, he said. “I very rarely have that much; yet I still put weight on”.

Following 5 days surveillance both at home and while out and about (they were not aware of the cameras when they were away from home), the results (unsurprising) are as follows.

i) Jill’s food diary stated that she consumed and average of 1300 calories a day; meaning that she should be losing not gaining weight.

- Snacking/grazing - 3630 additional calories
- Eating from others plates
- Overeating at weekend’s (blowout). Details were not recorded in her food diary. Total weekend calories - 7500.

    Not 1300 a day, but 3106 calories a day.

It's a “real shock”, said Jill looking embarrassed. “I’m not impressed at all. Looking at the food made me feel sick”.

ii) Similarly Stuart believed he was consuming an average of 2100 calories a day. At this level he too should have been losing weight.

- Large fatty meals late at night (two thirds of his daily calorie intake).
- Adding fat in the form of mayonnaise and salad cream to meals that are already high in fat e.g. burgers and chips
- Alcohol, particularly beer. 2 pints were documented in his food diary. He actually had 17 pints plus large quantities of wine and spirits. 1400     calories were consumed in the pub on Friday night

Not 2100 calories, but 3077 calories a day.

“Eye opener definitely”, commented Stuart. “Beer has more calories than I thought. I’ll just have to cut these things down”.

It’s clear that in order to lose weight, individuals need to be honest about what they are really consuming. Being aware of exactly what you eat is the key to changing behaviour. This is evidenced by the fact that just ten weeks later, Jill had lost one stone two pounds and Stuart and impressive one stone ten pounds.


Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Healthy eating and fat tax


In the last week we have had two healthy eating news items of interest.

The first, an online survey of 2000 people commissioned by PruHealth, found that the recession was having a negative impact on the respondents eating habits. The rising cost of living has resulted in them not being able to eat as healthy as they would like; with 50% stating it has unfavourably impacted their health.

Almost 70% admitted that they were finding it difficult to consume the recommended five fruit or vegetables a day. The main reason cited was that healthy foods were more expensive; 16% sock up when they are reduced or on offer.

18% of parents admitted that they were putting their children's dietary needs above their own, with 9% skipping meals to ensure their children eat well.
The recession is not only impacting health by influencing what people put into their shopping baskets. It is also impacting other health associated areas e.g. exercise. 16% had cancelled their gym membership with 27% saying they had opted to undertake free forms of exercise such as walking and running.

The second healthy eating report comes from Oxford University’s Dr Oliver Mytton and Dr Mike Rayner. They are proposing that 20% tax, dubbed ‘fat tax’, should be levied on unhealthy foods / drinks. This they argue would constitute a beneficial step towards tackling and reducing the current levels of heart disease and obesity.

Interestingly, 20% tax on unhealthy foods / drinks (the proposal is not currently being considered by the government) could potentially solve the problem of affordability, detailed in the survey above. The prerequisite being that the money was used to subsidize healthy foods as intended and not diverted elsewhere.


Monday, May 14, 2012

Beautiful or intelligent ?

In recent months my daughter has been driving the whole family mad with her ceaseless and I must add annoying questions. They all follow the same pattern, which is “would you rather be…or ….” e.g. “Would you rather be a cat or a dog? I kid you not.

Recently, she asked the following question. “Would you rather be beautiful or intelligent?” It reminded me of a newspaper article that I read a few days ago.

The article was discussing, Tom Bower (Simon Cowell’s biographer), who reportedly commented that he had had doubts about Cheryl Cole’s suitability for US X Factor, because “her real problem is she’s not very intelligent.”

Whatever you think of Cheryl Cole’s intelligence, many people e.g. Matthew Morrison (Glee) think she is beautiful.

Back to my daughter’s question. “Would you rather be beautiful or intelligent”?

I responded that’d rather be intelligent, because it took time and effort to acquire. It would therefore give me personal satisfaction and a sense of achievement. I elaborated this point by stating that intelligence could potentially give me a career/business and financial security. It also had the added benefit of not being subject to the whims of our culture’s beauty standards or ageing phobia.

“You are beautiful …. and intelligent”, I added.

“Thanks”, she said beaming.


Thursday, May 10, 2012

Vogue's body image pact

Vogue magazine has decided that all their world wide editions will refrain from using unhealthy models. Secondly, models under the age of 16, will no longer feature its pages. In the past Vogue (Paris) ignited much controversy, when it published a feature using a 10-year-old girl.

Jonathan Newhouse chairman of Conde Nast International, the company that owns the Vogue title, made the following statement.

"Vogue believes that good health is beautiful”, he said. “Vogue editors around the world want the magazines to reflect their commitment to the health of the models who appear on the pages and the well-being of their readers’’.

In a bid to improve the fashion world’s contribution to body image, Vogue have committed to working with “models who, in our view, are healthy and help us to promote a healthy body image.“

Going further in their promotion of healthier body image Vogue editors:

1 have given themselves the role of “ambassadors for the message of healthy body image.''

2. have asked model agencies and casting directors to ensure that they only send them individuals to that meet the new stringent requirements. e.g. exclude all "who appear to have an eating disorder.”

3. are actively encouraging designers to "consider the consequences of unrealistically small sample (dress) sizes... which encourages the use of extremely thin models.''

4. are promoting "healthy backstage working conditions,'' incorporating healthy food options.

The Model Alliance (that campaigns for better working conditions) responded positively to Vogues stance.

"The use of underage models is linked to financial exploitation, eating disorders, interrupted schooling, and contributes to models' overall lack of empowerment in the workplace. We simply believe that 14 is too young to be working in this very grown-up industry, and we're glad that Conde Nast International is making this commitment.''

I think this is an encouraging step in the right direction. Its hope it’s a catalyst for other magazines to would follow suit.


Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Finishing the London Marathon when paralysed

I love this story. It’s very inspirational and illustrates how someone can overcome adversity, challenge themselves and, at the same time, raise thousands of pounds for a good cause.

Claire Lomas 32, started the marathon in April with 35000 runners. Since then she has been progressing at a speed of 1½ miles a day. Today, she will be the last person to cross the finishing line; 16 days after the race began.

In response to a question asking for the reason why she decided to take on the marathon challenge, Claire replied. “Before my accident (a riding accident left her paralysed from the chest down) I'd always had a lot of challenges with horses; I'm that type of person.

“You know”, she continued. “It doesn’t change who you are when you have a spinal injury. You still want to push yourself. So for that reason and the reason of raising as much as I can.

“What Claire is doing is incredible”, said TV presenter, Ben Fogle. “Proving that you can get back from a sporting injury and take on the marathon; she has been walking for days and days for spinal research, it's so uplifting”.

Claire will not be a recipient of an official London Marathon medal, because rule changes this year mean that, to qualify, participants must finish on the day.
Before taking up the marathon challenge, Claire had only walked about a mile in her ‘ReWalk’ robotic suit, which she described as a "heavy piece of kit".

To date, Claire has raised approximately £80,000 for Spinal Research.

Congratulations Claire!


Friday, May 04, 2012

Mind matters

A close friend of mine has a son who suffers from manic depression, Tourette's syndrome and other mental health issues. He is 18 years old and has recently lost counselling support, because he was no longer a child, but was not getting help as an adult. My friend said that he had "fallen out of the system", but still needed counselling. She then, knowing that I had studied counselling for 2 years, asked me to counsel him.

I kindly explained to her that I thought her son needed to see a professional mental health care specialist. Happily, she took my advice and went to see her doctor. Now her son is getting the help he desperately needs.

1 in 4 people will experience some kind of mental health problem each year. Mixed anxiety and depression is the most common mental disorder in Britain.

As a society, we tend to focus on the physical body (both healthy and unhealthy). People with mental health issues are often ignored, disadvantaged or worse abused.

 As you will see from our home page, we firmly believe that '"the mind matters".

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