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The BBC's Karen Bowerman
"Till receipts could soon be used to warn us about how much fat there is in every item of fat we eat"
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Tuesday, 7 December, 1999, 02:43 GMT
Experts tackle a weighty problem
Fat camp The results of a fat camp for teenagers will be discussed

Experts meet in London on Tuesday to try to agree a strategy for helping people to reach their ideal weight.

The issue is one of the most important facing the medical profession.

Not only are more people becoming obese, there is also evidence to suggest many people are becoming increasingly obsessed with their weight, to the detriment of their mental health.

The conference at the Royal Society of Medicine will study all aspects of research into weight issues, from new ways of measuring and treating obesity through to the latest research on eating habits and the cultural and psychological pressures that cause thinness to be equated with beauty.

One speaker, Dr Margaret Ashwell, will argue that doctors are wrong to rely on the Body Mass Index (BMI) as a way to measure obesity.

People in developed societies seem to think they have a right to sit around all day like couch potatoes
Professor Ian MacDonald
The BMI compares weight with height, but Dr Ashwell will tell the conference that the important factor is the way fat is distributed around the body.

She will recommend a better way of calculating obesity using a simple chart that can be used for both men and women.

This will reveal instantly whether the subject is 'pear shaped' (healthy) or 'apple shaped' (unhealthy).

Western disease

Obese people Obesity is a growing problem in western cultures
Dr Andrew Hill of the University of Leeds will say that people who worry about their weight tend to live in urban environments.

Cultures which are economically poor have traditionally seen plump as beautiful.

But Dr Hill will say that research indicates this attitude is changing as young people move to towns and become more exposed to Western culture.

The ideal of being thin can spread "like a virus", he says.

This is particularly a problem for young women since the fashionable body shape seen as ideal for women is actually unhealthily thin.

Paul Gately of Leeds Metropolitan University will announce the results of a study into the UK's first residential weight loss programme for children.

He will say that the key to success at the "fat camp" in Leeds was to concentrate on more than just getting the children to lose weight.

The best long-term results were achieved by encouraging the development of sports skills and motivating the children to have energetic fun.

The conference has been organised by Ian MacDonald, professor of metabolic physiology at Nottingham University medical school.

Increase in obesity

Professor MacDonald said a re-think was needed in the way public health messages were conveyed to the public.

He said: "Public health statistics show us that the number of people in the developed world who are obese is increasing year by year.

"The impact of that on ill health, days off work and even premature mortality is substantial. We feel very strongly that there is a serious problem here which attention must be paid to."

Professor MacDonald said part of the problem was that it was difficult to persuade people to eat less fattening foods, take more exercise and lead a less sedentary lifestyle.

He said: "People in developed societies seem to think they have a right to sit around all day like couch potatoes.

"They take the attitude that it is not going to kill them tomorrow, so they are not bothered about it. We need to ways of improving the message that we get over so that people think both about today and tomorrow."

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See also:
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Children's diet better in 1950s
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