Why we’re so fat and have back problems

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The UK is the most obese nation in Western Europe with rates rising faster than any other developed nation 1 and only behind Turkey and Malta across the whole of Europe 2.

Indeed the cost to the NHS attributable to overweight and obesity is projected to reach £9.7 billion by 2050 with wider costs to society estimated to reach £49.9 billion per year according to the Government 3

Harvard Medical School in the US 4 says that the reasons behind obesity are complex – from overeating high calorie foods, snacking, genetic and environmental influences – some starting in childhood. Our modern lifestyle also has an adverse effect, for example, driving not walking, lack of exercise and sedentary snacking. Even sleep, our stress levels and other psychological factors can affect weight, according to Harvard.

“Our modern lifestyle has resulted in us sitting at our laptops and office computers for hours on end, whether working, shopping, streaming films or TV shows, checking our bank accounts or ordering food to be delivered – to the extent that we hardly need to leave our houses to fulfill our requirements, says Professor Smith of Medserena Upright MRI Centres in London and Manchester. “The situation is even worse for people who work from home and who are based just yards from our well-stocked kitchens. So, we snack while we sit. Then, we drive to one-stop superstores walking less than our parents who did their shopping locally. Our lives are also more stressful as we juggle work, family and entertainment and as a result we get less sleep.”

An estimated 2.5 million Britons suffer every day with back pain in the UK, whilst treating it costs the NHS more than £1 billion a year (source: NICE). A poll for Medserena Upright MRI Centres (October 2018) 5 found that one in five of those surveyed said that they had given up their job or reduced their hours because of their condition. Another fifth had been forced to give up a favourite pastime such as sport. One in seven said that they suffered every day and nearly half said that their problems had been going on for more than five years.

“Whilst not all of people’s back problems will have resulted from obesity, it certainly doesn’t help. When you sit, your body naturally exerts 11 times the pressure on your joints than when you are lying down and 8 times the pressure when you are standing up. So, when we scan patients in an upright position rather than lying down in a conventional tube, we see the results of this combination of modern lifestyle disasters, such as obesity that exerts greater stress and pressure on our joints – knees, hips and spine, in particular the lumbar region.

“We also see that as patients age their physiology inevitably suffers through conditions such as osteoporosis but that obesity exacerbates problems such as scoliosis (curvature) of the spine.

“People can help themselves considerably if they keep their body mass index (BMI) within normal limits. A change in lifestyle with increased exercise – walking more on a daily basis, for example, sensible portion sizes, drinking plenty of water, making healthy eating choices and getting a good night’s sleep is really the only way to achieve this,” concluded Professor Smith.

Medserena Upright MRI Centres offer MRI scans that are completely open at the front so avoiding claustrophobic reactions. Patients are scanned in natural weight-bearing positions either standing, sitting, twisting or crouching in the position where pain is experienced. This provides the patient’s medical consultant with a much clearer picture of the cause of their pain than if they were lying down in a conventional position.

1. OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) – Obesity Update – November 2017
2. WHO (World Health Organisation), Report into European Health, September 2018
3. Gov.UK – Health Matters: obesity and the food environment, March 2017
4. Harvard Health Publishing, Harvard Medical School – Why people become overweight, April 2017/June 2009
5. Medserena surveyed 2000 people who had experienced back pain over the previous 12 months. The research was carried out between 10 – 18 September 2018 by OnePoll.

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