Myths & Misconceptions About Obesity

Obesity: Fact File

We spend a lot of time correcting diet and physical activity myths to help people achieve their weight loss goals. Here is a few examples:

“I gain weight because I have a slow metabolism.”

This is a common myth among dieters who are struggling to lose weight. Individuals do not have a fast or slow metabolism and there is no way doctors can test the speed of your metabolism in a GP surgery!

Studies have shown that resting metabolism – the number of calories used by the body at rest – actually INCREASES as people become heavier. In other words, the larger you are the more calories you use to keep your body going.

Being fit and increasing your lean muscle tissue is one way to increase your metabolism. Essentially, the fitter you are, and the more lean muscle you have, the more calories you burn both at rest and during exercise – thus making weight maintenance and weight control easier.

You don’t need to buy a gym membership or go running for that to count as ‘exercise’. Physical activity and exercise are different. Exercise tends to be intentionally ‘doing something’ whereas physical activity refers to the activity we do as part of daily life. Aim to increase your physical activity, and if you want to do exercise – find something you love doing.

“I’m not overweight, I’m just big boned.”

This is partly true. Some people have bigger skeletal frames than others. It’s better to say that someone has a small, medium or large frame rather than being big boned. However, having a large frame in terms of weight management will not have a huge impact. An adult skeleton only weights between 2 and 4 kg (4-8lbs), whereas an adult male in the healthy range has a total weight of around 70kgs (10.5 stone).

“Low fat foods are the best option for a healthy diet.”

There has been a lot of news on this in the last few years, and the food industry still promote low fat products as being “healthier”.

Two points to note here:

Point 1) Fat is one of the 3 macronutrients that are required for daily living, we need it in our diet. The reason it is restricted so frequently is because per gram of fat, there are 9 calories. Per gram of carbohydrate and protein, there are approximately 4 calories.

Point 2) Foods that are ‘low fat’ tend to be high in something else, often sugar.

“Cutting carbs”

Many diets will cut out carbohydrates or cut out fat, and you will hear people saying that “this low carb diet works for me”. That is the key – some diets do work for some people better than others. However, there isn’t a one size fits all.

The one thing to note about fats, proteins, and carbohydrates is that there are different types of each. For example there are saturated and unsaturated fats, refined and natural carbohydrates, or first and second class proteins. With carbohydrates, it is the refined carbohydrates [or processed / added sugar] – such as that in white bread, chocolate, fizzy drinks – that should be avoided. These are ‘empty calories’ – they don’t really give us much usable energy.

“It’s just puppy fat.”

A common misconception is around “puppy fat”. Many parents dismiss weight gain as “puppy fat” and that their children will grow out of it in their next growth spurt. However, research shows this isn’t the case for most children. In fact, children are more likely to continue to put on weight and not grow out of it as their parents might think. If you are ever concerned about your child’s weight, the best thing to do is to seek advice from an expert. Early help should always be available.

“Childhood obesity is the parents’ fault.”

If your child struggles with their weight it is important to remember it is not a blame game.

As a family, every member has to be committed to the child’s weight problem, especially the parents or primary caregiver. The person that’s responsible for buying the food that’s in the house and which is provided at meal times has a key responsibility to provide healthy options for all occasions.

However, it must be recognised that there are other people who will feed your child and that children are away at school for several hours a day. This means that there are periods of time where parents do not have control over their children’s choices.

“Childhood obesity is caused by fast food.”

No single category of food causes obesity, it is caused by the consumption of too many calories over a sustained period of time.

In today’s society there are plenty of opportunities for us to tuck into high-calorie foods from fast food chains, or even the supermarket. We need to have the knowledge about what we are eating and what our bodies need. Managing this balance is the responsibility of the individual.

Burgers and fries don’t make us gain weight; it’s the decision to eat too much, too often and not maintain a healthy lifestyle that can cause us to over-consume calories and store excess fat.

“Childhood obesity is caused by too much time spent watching TV and playing video games.”

As a nation we don’t do enough exercise. Kids especially need to be very active, getting out of breath for at least an hour each day.

So once again, it’s not TV and video games that cause obesity, it is anything that is taking up the time that we could be spending being active.

Screen time is “weight gain time” so it is important that parents should limit the amount of time the whole family watch telly and encourage involvement in physical activity whilst being a great role model for being active.