Nutrition & Food Science

ISSN: 0034-6659

Article publication date: 1 December 1999



Wells, D. (1999), "Editorial", Nutrition & Food Science, Vol. 99 No. 6. https://doi.org/10.1108/nfs.1999.01799faa.001



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 1999, MCB UP Limited


The British Nutrition Foundation recently organised a conference on obesity. Obesity together with overweight is reaching epidemic proportions in the UK. The conference papers were all excellent and covered topics such as metabolic aspects of obesity, food preference and intake, health risks of obesity and its dietary treatment. One paper, by Professor Jane Wardle, attracted my particular attention. It was on psychological aspects of obesity, a subject which has attracted scant attention in the medical literature.

Professor Wardle began by asking whether psychological problems were the cause of obesity or whether obesity caused the psychological problems. Was there an overeating syndrome? She pointed out that obesity is often the cause of depression that is lifted when excess weight is lost. Obese people often appear to have lost control over their eating. Many of them binge frequently, at least twice a week. The binge eaters appear to have more psychological problems that non-bingers and treatment of their obesity should take this into account.

Body image is often a problem among obese subjects. Their emotional evaluation of their own bodies ranges from "ideal" to "disgusting". In an investigation into body image perception, 17 per cent said they were self-conscious about their size, 21 per cent said they were concerned about their size but over 50 per cent claimed to be both self-conscious and disappointed about their body image. Body image perception appeared to be influenced by gender, ethnicity and age of onset of obesity.

This concern over body image may lead to further binge eating for comfort. Eating may no longer be controlled by internal cues of hunger and satiety. Eating may become a response to external cues such as the taste, smell, appearance and availability of food. Often concern about their appearance makes obese subjects avoid physical activity which is counterproductive in any weight reduction programme. Poor body image may also lead to an avoidance of social activity and physical contact with others.

The rapid increase in obesity that has occurred over the last 20 years has been recognised by the British Nutrition Foundation. In December 1995 it convened a task force under the chairmanship of Professor John Garrow. The task force included experts in biochemistry, clinical medicine, dietetics, endocrinology, epidemiology, exercise, health education, psychology and surgery. The results of its deliberations are published in a comprehensive and authoritative report entitled Obesity; A Report of the British Nutrition Task Force. This publication examines the likely causes, prevention and treatment of obesity and brings together a wealth of research information on this topic. It provides a core of information for health professionals, including nutritionists, dietitians, nurses and GPs. It is also recommended to university lecturers and researchers in nutrition, dietetics and in particular those involved in the treatment and study of obesity.

Members of the BDA, the Nutrition Society, the Association for the Study of Obesity and subscribers to the BNF Nutrition Bulletin can buy a copy of the Report for £27 which includes £2 postage and packing. Others can purchase the book for £31.99 including postage and packing from the British Nutrition Foundation, High Holborn House, 52-54 High Holborn, London WC1V 6RQ. Tel: 0171 404 6504; Fax: 0171 404 6747.

Dilys Wells

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