While obesity is a major health issue in Ireland. Health and Living editor, Rosemarie Meleady takes a lighter approach to the issue of weight loss. The question is ‘Are we expecting too much of ourselves?’

While many people aspire to look like a shop mannequin, a woman as thin as a modern mannequin wouldn’t be able to menstruate and fashion models can be even slimmer than the shop dummies, weighing 23% less than the average woman. Our aspirations aren’t helped by the fact that over the last 20 years, models have got thinner – while we’ve got fatter. With the gulf widening both men and women are becoming more dissatisfied with how they look. A study in Psychology Today found that after three minutes of looking at pictures of models in magazines, 70% of women felt depressed, guilty or ashamed.

David Buss of the University of Michigan, USA, has spent five years surveying the world to discover what attracts men to women and vice versa. He found that men want women to be young, with a waist smaller than their hips (characteristics that imply fertility). Women “choose mature men with good financial prospects”.

Men now feel more pressure to be ‘beautiful’

Nothing new there but things are changing – fewer women are dependent on men for financial stability and men now feel more pressure to be ‘beautiful’.

Our weight increase in the western world is due to two main factors – diet and less physical activity. In the last 50 years, we’ve consumed more of the world’s resources than all previous generations put together. The Irish eat more than any other European nationality allowing us to become the most obese nation in Europe and while North Americans spend only 10% of their income on food – less than any other nationality – they still buy so much that they throw away 15% of it. Some 900 kilometres south of them, Haitians spend over half of their income on food and still don’t eat enough. Three quarters of the population is malnourished.

Let’s not forget a certain amount of fat is healthy. Three per cent of your body weight should be fat – to cushion internal organs, insulate and absorb shock. On the other hand too much fat can cause serious medical complaints and obese people are tow to three times more likely to die prematurely. Unfortunately, there are so many overweight people that the World Health Organisation has declared obesity an epidemic and forecast that 23% of women will be obese by 2005.

“We’re fatter because we are inactive not because we eat too much.” explains Susan Jebb of the Nutrition Centre in Cambridge. “Television is the fastest growing leisure activity in the world. Americans devote more time to watching TV than to any other activity except sleeping and working.”

Small changes made to the daily lifestyle can prevent some of the excess weight gain. People, who eat their evening meal in front of the TV only use 35% of the energy they get from the food to breathe, digest and pump blood. The other 65% is stored in their bodies as fat – which they may or may not burn off later, though most people won’t.
Using a mobile phone robs you of the equivalent of a 16km walk every year.
Considering that if a person walks a kilometre a week, their chances of developing heart disease drops by 19%, it is work taking a few steps to your mainline to make those less urgent calls. Three quarters of the world’s phones (and only one-sixth of the world’s population) are in rich countries, which means the rest – who live an average of a two-hour walk from the nearest telephone – still get more exercise making one phone call than the average European gets in a week.

To maximise output from staff, office equipment is constantly being updated with time saving devises. Office workers can now send faxes and e-mails from their computers rather than walk to the fax machine. This saves five minutes of walking every hour – the equivalent of hiking 500km every year.

Car ownership causes significant weight gain

According to one study, car ownership causes significant weight gain. Not only because motorists choose it over walking or cycling but motorists also like to eat while driving. The average UK motorist consumes a bag of chips, six chocolate bars, three sandwiches, two pies, two burgers, a donut and a kebab at the wheel every month, with the on-going congestion on Irish roads our road eating habits are probably much the same.

Advertising campaigns in other parts of the world pressure people into adopting our fatty, inactive lifestyle. In Shanghai billboards are trying to encourage it s seven million cyclists to swap their bikes for cars (only five per cent of China’s population currently have cars). But why would they want to change to motorised vehicles when it would propably result in slowing them down as has happened in Los Angeles, where a commuter on a six lane Los Angeles highway in rush hour goes as slowly as a horse and carriage?

The best way to beat the flab combine an aerobic and strengthening exercise routing (three times a week) with a health diet. Adopt this as your lifestyle and while your body burns up fat, your brain is releasing endorphins, making you feel relaxed and happy.

So before setting out in pursuit of the ideal body, first decide whose idea of beauty you want to pursue and don’t be too hard on yourself – especially when 95% of dieters regain weight as quickly as they lost it. As one Body Shop advertising campaign stated “There are three billion women who don’t look like super models and only eight who do”.

Thought for the day – Three quarters of the world’s phones (and only one-sixth of the world’s population) are in rich countries, which means the rest – who live an average of a two-hour walk from the nearest telephone – still get more exercise making one phone call than the average European gets in a week.