Start ’em young




A survey of UK school children has shown that children as young as nine and ten are already showing signs of markers for type two diabetes.

It is known that the more screen time a child has, whether this is computer games, video games or television, the fatter they get. There is a dose / response effect.

Insulin resistance also increases and also shows a dose / response effect. The surprise is how early the changes occur.

Achiv Dis Child doi:10.1136/archdischild-2016-312016

Eric Barker: 5 Questions that will make you emotionally strong

wonder woman

5 Questions That Will Make You Emotionally Strong

Click here to read the post on the blog or keep scrolling to read in-email.

Ever been caught in the grip of extreme emotions? I’m gonna guess whatever decision you made next probably wasn’t a good one.

When we’re anxious, angry, or sad, we rarely do the smart thing. And that can seriously mess up our lives. At work, in love, or pretty much anything we do, we need emotional strength to stay cool and do the right thing.

Now dealing with the ups and downs of feelings isn’t anything new. And nor are some of the best solutions. So let’s look at what some ancient wisdom has to say about dealing with difficult emotions.

Studying Buddhist mindfulness or Stoicism can take a heck of a long time. So we’ll prune their insights down to 5 questions that can help you when emotions hijack your brain and send you into a tizzy.

First up: worrying. When your mind is filled with anxious concerns and doubts, what question do you need to be asking yourself?

“Is This Useful?”

Face it: your brain can be a pretty crazy place. All kinds of things bounce around in there. And you’re usually pretty good at culling the wacky thoughts. But then you get worried…

And your brain starts multiplying negative possibilities like crazy. And you make the mistake of taking them seriously. Every. Single. One.

Remember: you are not your thoughts. Neuroscientist Alex Korb made an interesting distinction when I spoke to him. If you were to break your arm you would not tell people, “I am broken.” But when we feel worry we’re quick to say, “I am worried.”

Your brain produces thoughts. That’s its job. But that’s not directly under your control. So just because something is in your head, doesn’t mean it’s “you”, and should therefore be taken seriously.

When I spoke to Buddhist mindfulness expert Sharon Salzberg, she said this:

I think one of the issues that we have is that we don’t necessarily recognize that a thought is just a thought. We have a certain thought, we take it to heart, we build a future on it, we think, “This is the only thing I’ll ever feel”, “I’m an angry person and I always will be”, “I’m going to be alone for the rest of my life”, and that process happens pretty quickly.
If you acted on every crazy thought that popped into your head, I can guarantee you two things:

  • There’s a blockbuster reality show in your future.
  • And not a lot of happiness.

So if you are not your thoughts, who are “you”? You’re the thing that decides which thoughts are useful and should be taken seriously.

The ancient Stoics believed that you are just your reasoned choice; because that’s the only thing fully under your control. So those worried thoughts aren’t you. The decisions you make regarding them are.

You’re not your brain; you’re the CEO of your brain. You can’t control everything that goes on in “Mind, Inc.” But you can decide which projects get funded with your attention and action.

So when a worry is nagging at you, step back and ask: “Is this useful?”

When I spoke to Buddhist mindfulness expert Joseph Goldstein he said:

This thought which has arisen, is it helpful? Is it serving me or others in some way or is it not? Is it just playing out perhaps old conditions of fear or judgment or things that are not very helpful for ourselves or others? Mindfulness really helps us both see and discern the difference and then it becomes the foundation then for making wiser choices and why the choices lead to more happiness.
If the worry is reasonable, do something about it. If it’s irrational or out of your control, recognize that. Neuroscience shows that merely making a decision like this can reduce worry and anxiety.

(To learn the 7-step morning ritual that will make you happy all day, click here.)

But maybe you’re not worried. Maybe you’re furious. But what is anger? Where does it come from? And what question can make these HULK SMASH feelings go away?

“Does The World Owe Me This?”

Anger comes from entitlement. You feel you’re entitled to something, reality doesn’t bend to your expectations and boom — you’re punching things. Or people.

Traffic is bad. You get angry. Let me translate that thought process for you: “Traffic should never cause me problems. The world owes me that.” Sound reasonable? Hardly.

Or someone doesn’t do what they said they’d do. You get angry. Now you might reply, “People should do what they say they’ll do! I have a right to be angry!”

Yes, it would be nice if people always followed through, but is that a reasonable expectation? Of course not. You know people don’t always do what they say. Now you can definitely call them out on it. You can decide to do something in response. But the anger?

That awful feeling is all yours. You had an unrealistic expectation (“People will always do what they say”) and now you’re shocked — SHOCKED! — that they didn’t.

Famed psychologist Albert Ellis (whose work was inspired by the Stoics) led a war against the words “should” and “must.” Anytime you use those words, you’re probably in for some unhappiness because you’re saying the universe is obligated to bend to your will. Good luck with that.

So the solution to anger is to ask yourself: “Does the world owe me this?”

Yeah, it’s a trick question. Because the world doesn’t owe you anything. And the more you think the world owes you, the angrier you will be. Again, it’s all about reasonable expectations. And that’s why Marcus Aurelius said:

Begin each day by telling yourself: Today I shall be meeting with interference, ingratitude, insolence, disloyalty, ill-will, and selfishness…
Not a pleasant way to start the day — that I grant you. But he was on to something. Expecting everything to go your way, let alone insisting on it, is a prescription for anger.

I know what some people are thinking: feeling you’re entitled to nothing in life seems unfair and sad. But don’t forget that you take for granted what you are owed. Not being entitled makes every good thing in life a prize. You either achieved it or you were lucky, and those lead to feelings of pride or gratitude.

When you’re entitled, you don’t appreciate anything, and you’re frequently disappointed. Not a good combo. And when psychologists are evaluating if someone is a narcissist, guess what one of the four criteria is? Yeah, entitlement.

(To learn how mindfulness can make you happy, click here.)

Maybe you’re not worried or angry. Maybe you’re just overwhelmed by sadness about something. Well, I have a question for you…

“Must I Have This To Live A Happy Life?”

Plenty of people have a lot less than you and live a very happy life. If happiness was all about money then every single person in the developing world would be miserable. People who have lost a loved one, who have become handicapped, or heaven forbid, had a bad hair day, are all capable of living happy lives.

What do you truly need to live a happy life? (Hint: the longer your list, the more miserable you will be.)

As Marcus Aurelius said:

Very little is needed to make a happy life; it is all within yourself, in your way of thinking.
So next time you don’t get something you want and it makes you sad, ask yourself, “Must I have this to live a happy life?”

Yeah, yeah, forgive me — it’s another trick question. The answer is almost always “no.”

Maybe you didn’t get that promotion. And when you ask yourself the question, your first thought is “But my career is important to my happiness!”

Hey, I underlined the word “this” for a reason, pal.

Yes, your career is important. But is this promotion, right now, vital to the happiness of your life? No. Who knows what the future holds? And some of that is under your control. There are many ways to live a happy life and very rarely will this one thing make or break you.

(To learn the four rituals neuroscience says will make you happy, click here.)

Now when you’re consumed by negative emotions it can be very hard to make good decisions. Which means more bad stuff happens, which means more bad feelings. So how do you make smart choices when you feel awful? Just ask…

“Is This Who I Want To Be?”

News flash: there is no singular, concrete “you.” Neuroscientists have poked around at plenty of grey matter and there’s no spot in there that contains a stable “you.” And Buddhists were saying this over a thousand years ago.

Neuroscientist and Buddhism practitioner John Yates explains:

We often believe we should be in control, the masters of our own minds. But that belief only creates problems for your practice. It will lead you to try to willfully force the mind into submission. When that inevitably fails, you will tend to get discouraged and blame yourself. This can turn into a habit unless you realize there is no “self” in charge of the mind, and therefore nobody to blame.
Tons of things affect your decisions every day. Context, friends, and moods all affect what you do and who you are. This is a good thing, because it means you can change.

But it presents a challenge because it means you need to decide which person you will be today, Sybil. And this isn’t something you want to get wrong. What is the #1 regret people have on their deathbeds?

I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
Yow. So who should you decide to be? We can turn to modern science for this answer: Be you on your best day. So when making tough choices think about whether what you plan to do is aligned with the “you” you’re most proud of.

Merely thinking about your best possible self makes you happier:

Results generally supported these hypotheses, and suggested that the [Best Possible Self] exercise may be most beneficial for raising and maintaining positive mood.
And don’t worry about seeming inauthentic either. When you act like your best self, you end up showing people what you’re really like:

…positive self-presentation facilitates more accurate impressions, indicating that putting one’s best self forward helps reveal one’s true self.
(To learn the schedule very successful people follow every day, click here.)

Alright, this has all been very focused inside your head. How can you be emotionally strong when someone you’re dealing with is being emotionally weak or difficult? If someone else is anxious, angry, or sad, and it’s making your life rough, that can bring you down. How do you help both of you? Ask yourself…

“Have I Ever Felt That Way?”

Whatever they are going through, you’ve probably felt something similar. So be compassionate.

Both Buddhism and Stoicism believe in doing your best to reduce the suffering of others. Buddhism has the four divine abodes: loving-kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity. And on the Stoic side, good ol’ Marcus Aurelius said:

Be tolerant with others and strict with yourself.
Compassion sounds nice, but does it really produce results? Absolutely. And you get bigger benefits if you do it when you are least likely to want to — during an argument.

Via 100 Simple Secrets of Great Relationships:

People who maintain a compassionate spirit during disagreements with their partner, considering not just the virtue of their position but the virtue of their partner, have 34 percent fewer disagreements, and the disagreements last 59 percent less time. – Wu 2001
(To learn how to have more grit — from a Navy SEAL — click here.)

Okay, we’ve learned a lot. Let’s round it up and learn the most important part of being emotionally strong…

Sum Up

Here are the 5 questions from ancient wisdom that will make you emotionally strong:

  • “Is it useful?”: Most worrying isn’t. Make a decision to do something or to let it go.
  • “Does the world owe me this?”: No. Don’t be entitled. Have realistic expectations and you won’t get angry.
  • “Must I have this to live a happy life?”: Probably not. It takes little to make a happy life and there are many ways to get those things.
  • “Is this who I want to be?”: Act the way you do when you’re at your best.
  • “Have I ever felt that way?”: Respond to others’ problems with compassion and you’ll both have fewer problems.

The most important part of emotional strength is not calming your mind. It’s being resilient. It’s trying again after you’ve been shaken by negative feelings.

There are plenty of areas of your life where this is critical, but none is more important than your relationships — research shows 70% of your happiness comes from relationships.

You will be hurt. You will feel bad at times. That’s life. Sorry, there’s no avoiding it. So the question is: who is worth it? Who is most meaningful to you?

So when things are hard, have the emotional strength to still give to them and help them and care for them. You now have tools to weather the storm. Earlier I mentioned the biggest regrets that people had when they were dying. Know what #3 was?

I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
So go first. Let someone know how much they mean to you. Who are we most likely to love? Research says it’s the people who first show us love.

Recently, I have been lucky enough to have this happen to me. And I can tell you nothing feels better.

Enough reading, time for doing. Right now, have the emotional strength to tell someone important how you feel, to forgive someone, to let someone back into your life, or to reconnect with someone you miss.

Don’t wait around for something negative to develop emotional strength. Flex some now and see how happy it can make you.

Please share this on Facebook or save it to Pocket. Thank you!



Thanks for reading!
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Stephan Guyenet: Why your brain makes you fat

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In this interview, which you can listen to or read,  neuroscientist Stephan Guyenet discusses various topics related to a big issue with a lot of people, how we get fat and what we can do about it, with Kris Kresser.

Susan Pierce Thompson: How to be happy, thin and free


This March, Susan’s first book, Bright Line Eating: The Science of Living Happy, Thin & Free, arrived in bookstores.

Here’s what she had to say:

Susan, in Bright Line Eating, you argue that the reason so many people struggle with their weight is that the human brain blocks weight loss. How so?

The human brain was designed to keep us stable in a right-sized body. But modern processed foods and the modern pace of life have hijacked various systems in the brain, and the result is that now, in the present-day environment, the brain does indeed block weight loss.

Here’s how: willpower is a finite resource in the brain. And it doesn’t just help us resist temptations or persevere in the face of challenges – it helps us do all kinds of things, like make decisions (e.g., checking email, going shopping), regulate our emotions (e.g., having kids, being in traffic), and regulate our task performance (e.g., working in Excel, giving a presentation).

After a brief period of time doing any of these things, if we start to think it might be a good time to get something to eat, we’re likely to fall into the Willpower Gap.

This is why so many of us order out for pizza or take-out on a Friday night after a long week, irrespective of how sincere we were when we pledged that this time we would stick with our diet until we lost all our excess weight.

In our modern society, the Willpower Gap is waiting for us, nearly always. Most plans of eating implicitly ask you to rely on your willpower to stick with the plan over the long term. The truth about your brain is that that will never work. You need a plan of eating that assumes you have no willpower at all (because, at any given moment, you may not), and works anyway.

To avoid relying on willpower, you suggest people adopt 4 “bright lines” into their eating habits. What are they?

Bright lines are clear, unambiguous boundaries that you don’t cross, no matter what–similar to how a smoker who wants to quit and get healthy throws up a bright line for cigarettes. The four bright lines I recommend are:

  1. No added sugar or artificial sweeteners
  2. No flour of any kind
  3. Eating only at meals–no snacking or grazing
  4. Bounding quantities of food, both to make sure you get enough vegetables, and to make sure you don’t eat too much of everything else.

What’s one thing everyone reading this can do right now to improve their chances of maintaining a healthy weight?

To really bridge the Willpower Gap, start writing down what you’re going to eat for the day in a little journal, ideally right after dinner the night before. Do it religiously until it becomes a habit. The next day, your job is to eat only and exactly that, no matter what. Make sure there’s no sugar or flour in your food plan for the day, and, ideally, stick with three meals a day, because three meals are much more automatizable than five or six.

Within a few weeks these habits will be automatic, and eating the right things, and not the wrong things, will start to be as easy as brushing your teeth.


(From original interview by Ron Friedman)

Planning a pregnancy: the importance of getting slim before you get started

newborn baby

In Europe the World Health Organisation estimate that more than 50% of men and women are overweight or obese and 23% of women are obese.

In a pregnant woman obesity raises her chances of gestational diabetes and pre-eclampsia. She is also more likely to get metabolic syndrome and type two diabetes later in life. The resulting children are more likely to come to harm in utero and at birth and also more likely to become fat children. They are then more likely to develop higher blood pressure and excess weight in early adulthood.

Despite the push to improve the outcome for the babies in utero, lifestyle changes and medical interventions have largely proved unsuccessful.

Women with a BMI over 25 find it more difficult to conceive in the first place and then are more likely to miscarry compared to their slimmer sisters. The miscarriage rate is 1.67. Congenital abnormalities become more common.

The placenta responds to maternal insulin levels. In normal weight women they become 40-50% less sensitive to insulin but this bounces back within days of delivery. Obese women show greater decreases in insulin sensitivity, this affects lipid and amino acid metabolism. African Americans and Southern Asians get these changes at lower body masses than Europeans.

Obese women are more likely to go into labour early. They also may need to be delivered early. They have a higher rate of failed trial of labour, caesarean sections and endometritis and have five times the risk of neonatal injury.

Anaesthetic complications are more common. The Royal College of Obstetrics and Gynaecology recommend that women with a BMI over 40 see an obstetric anaesthetist before going into labour. Epidural failure is more common. The woman may have lower blood pressure and respiratory problems and the baby may have more heart rate decelerations in labour.

Broad spectrum antibiotics are recommended for all caesarean sections. Despite this, overweight women get more post- operative infections. The wounds are also more likely to come apart.

Obese pregnant women are obviously at even more risk.

Babies of obese mothers are usually fatter at birth compared to other babies. Obese mums tend to put on more weight than average during the pregnancy and then find it even harder to lose weight after delivery.

Recent randomised controlled trial  have shown that interventions started after pregnancy have little or no effect. These include increasing the mum’s physical activity and cutting the dietary glycaemic load. These things reduced the weight gained in pregnancy a little but did not affect adverse pregnancy outcomes and the birth of fat babies. Thus there is now a bigger push to intervene before pregnancy.  

Currently between ten and twenty percent of obese women lose weight between pregnancies. This has been found to reduce weight gain in the next pregnancy and also the risk of pre-eclampsia.  Supervised intensive lifestyle interventions can be done, work and are safe, even in breast feeding mothers. Pre-pregnancy classes to get women fit for pregnancy would help improve the outcome for the babies of the future.  The metabolic environment, a mixture of inflammation, insulin resistance, lipotoxicity, and hyperinsulinemia,  can then be optimised prior to conception. After this, it is really too late.


Adapted from Obesity and Pregnancy. Patrick M Catalano and Kartik Shankar from Cleveland Ohio and Little Rock Arkansas Universities.  BMJ 18 February 2017 BMJ 2017;356;j1

Obesity raises the risk of cancer


Obesity is strongly associated with eleven different cancers.

These are: oesophageal, multiple myeloma, stomach, colon, rectum, biliary tract, pancreas, breast, endometrium, ovary and kidney.  For many cancers there seems to be a dose response.

This was found by Kyrgiou and colleagues by studying over 95 meta-analyses from various sources.

The BMJ reports, “The unavoidable conclusion is that preventing excess adult weight gain can reduce the risk of cancer. Furthermore, emerging evidence suggests that excess body fat in early life also has an adverse effect on the risk of cancer in adulthood. Clinicians, particularly those in primary care, can be a powerful force to lower the burden of obesity related cancers, as well as the many other chronic diseases linked to obesity such as diabetes, heart disease and stroke. The data are clear. The time for action is now.”

As a GP, I don’t really think that I am a “powerful force” that can turn the obesity epidemic round. It is amazing what faith the authors Yikyung Park and Graham Colditz have regarding our abilities.


Adapted from Adiposity and cancer at major anatomical sites BMJ 2017; 356:j477 and BMJ 2017;356:j908

Dame Sally Davies reports on the health of Baby Boomers: and it’s pretty shocking stuff


The Chief Medical Officer of England has released a report into the health of Baby Boomers. This is the group of people born between 1945 and 1965. I’m one of them, maybe you are too.

We are living longer but are not really in better health. A huge burden of cardiovascular disease and cancers would be reduced if we looked after ourselves better by not smoking, eating better, keeping slim,  exercising, and drinking less.

Obesity and diabetes are increasing markedly through all classes of society. Obesity, particularly central obesity, is increasing. By waist size alone 80% of us are obese!

Liver cancer is now making an impact on deaths. 

Diseases that don’t kill but make you unfit to work and miserable include musculo-skeletal problems, visual and hearing loss. These are having a considerable effect.

Smoking is reducing but more than 6 out of ten smokers say that they have NEVER been advised to stop smoking by a doctor or nurse in their entire lives. Dame Sally thinks this is shocking. I think these smokers have shockingly bad memories.

Men are drinking less than 20 years ago but women are drinking more. The new guideline is less than 14 units a week for everyone.

One thing we are doing less of is physical activity and exercise. This is down from even just ten years ago with two thirds of Baby Boomers doing less than 30 minutes of exercise in the last month.


Here is a large chunk of the report:

Physical health

A key finding is that whilst life expectancy in 2013 increased compared with that of men and women in the same age group in 1990, overall morbidity remained unchanged. This means that we live longer but our health and well-being has not actually improved.

The data report substantially decreased death rates from each of the leading causes of disease in both male and female adults aged 50–69 years in 2013 compared with people who were in the same age group in 1990. These declines in mortality are success stories.

In particular, mortality rates from ischaemic heart disease (IHD) fell by over three- quarters in 50–70 year-olds during this time. Nevertheless, the fact that it still remains the leading cause of mortality in this age group is indicative of another issue; the leading risk factors for premature mortality in this group are IHD risk factors that are all modifiable, the top three being smoking, poor diet and high body mass index. The cancer types (oesophageal cancer in men, uterine cancer and liver cancer) that thwart the downward trend in premature mortality from cancer also have associations with modifiable risk factors such as alcohol and obesity.

In terms of morbidity, risk factors responsible for a remarkable 45% of disease burden in 50–69 year-olds in 2013 were again modifiable, with the leading three risks for both men and women being poor diet, tobacco consumption and high body mass index (BMI). The implication of this is huge: a large proportion of the disease burden in Baby Boomers is amenable to prevention.

Perhaps most striking is the case of diabetes. Morbidity from diabetes rose by 97% among men and 57% among women aged 50–69 years between 1990 and 2013. Although this definition includes both type 1 and type 2 diabetes, the attributable risk from factors including obesity, diet and low physical activity rose by 70%. There is a deprivation inequality in diabetes, as there is with all the leading causes of morbidity and indeed life expectancy. However, with diabetes the gap is decreasing, showing that this is an increasing problem regardless of social stratum. Interestingly, compared with tobacco consumption, which is strongly socially stratified, body mass index is now less socially stratified in terms of the size of the attributable burden of risk factors. These data suggest that it is extremely important that we strive to reduce inequalities in the health of Baby Boomers. In addition, weight and obesity must be addressed across the board.

Despite the fact that tobacco consumption in adults overall is decreasing, it remains an important risk factor in this group, remaining the leading risk factor for premature mortality and the second leading cause of total disease burden. Socioeconomic inequalities in tobacco consumption and related illnesses are well recognised and exemplified in this group. However, an additional inequality is the fact that the decline in premature mortality from lung cancer in women is less than half that in men.

Several issues highlighted in my previous surveillance reports hold true for Baby Boomers. My concerns, as Chief Medical Officer, about the increase in premature mortality in England due to liver disease in England (compared with mortality figures for our European counterparts) have been echoed by the trend in premature mortality from liver cancer in this age group. My calls for more robust systems for surveillance of high burden diseases, such as musculoskeletal disease, and sensory (visual and hearing) impairment, which impact more on quality of life and productivity than on premature mortality, are strengthened. Sensory impairment is the second highest cause of morbidity in this age group in men and the fifth in women. Yet needs are likely to be unmet, given the considerably lower prevalence of hearing aid use compared with the estimated prevalence of objective hearing loss. Musculoskeletal disease has again been highlighted as having a lack of high-quality routine information at a national level. However, we do know that the burden is high, demonstrated by the tripling in the rate of elective admissions for back pain and primary knee replacement in 50–70 year old adults between 1995/96 and 2013/14.

Datasets on oral health are also limited. While the improved oral health of Baby Boomers compared with that of their predecessors is a considerable triumph, it is important that we have sufficient data to inform the provision of services given that, counterintuitively, this success may mean that demand increases.


Annual Report of the Chief Medical Officer 2015, On the State of the Public’s Health, Baby Boomers: Fit for the Future

Chapter 1

Lifestyle factors

The authors of Chapter 5 analyse data concerning Baby Boomers generated from the Health Survey for England 2013 and the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA, 2012/13), a wealth of information on adults over 50 years of age. They analyse key factors affecting health such as smoking, alcohol, diet, physical activity and obesity, all of which are modifiable.

Baby Boomers had lower rates of smoking than those of the same age 20 years previously. The extent of the difference between the rates increases with age within the cohort. This is despite data from the physical health chapter which identify tobacco consumption as a leading cause of both mortality and morbidity in Baby Boomers. I find it shocking that, by this stage in their lives, in current and ex-smokers, 66% of baby boomer men and 71% of baby boomer women have never been recommended to stop smoking by a doctor or nurse. There is an unquestionable need for adequate support for smokers trying to quit and this questions whether services are targeting and reaching those who require them. Continued provision of Stop Smoking services is vital. A sustained decrease in the prevalence of smoking risks underestimating the needs of the baby boomer population for these services. They have lived through the height of the tobacco era and continue to experience substantial ill-effects from it. Locally appropriate services are also essential to reduce the resounding socio-economic inequalities and the geographical variation evident in smoking prevalence among Baby Boomers.

The UK Chief Medical Officers published new guidelines on low risk drinking in August 2016. For both men and women the guideline is that to keep health risks from alcohol to a low level it is safest not to drink regularly more than 14 units a week and that for those who drink as much as 14 units per week it is best to spread this evenly over three days or more, and that several drink-free days in the week aid cutting intake. Although in terms of units per week, baby boomer men were drinking less than those in the same age group 20 years earlier, the proportion of men now drinking on five days a week increased with age, with the highest rate of 30% in 65–69 year-olds. Whilst still within the guidance for low risk drinking it is of concern to me that, on average, baby boomer women reported drinking more than women of the same age 20 years previously, with a maximum difference of 3 units per week (from, on average, 4.5 units per week in 1993 to 7.5 units in 2012-13) in women aged 60-64 years

Given the increase in obesity rates seen in recent years, it is of little surprise that overweight and obesity levels were significantly increased in Baby Boomers compared with adults of the same age 20 years earlier. The authors found that nearly half of baby boomer men and over a third of baby boomer women were overweight. Around a startling 75% of men and 80% of women were classified as centrally obese if raised waist circumference (defined as 102cm in men and 88cm in women), a risk factor for diabetes, was used instead of BMI (with 77% of men and 83% of women being classified as obese by 65–69 years of age using this criterion). These statistics are staggering. If these adults are to reduce their current risk and maintain their health through older age, it is critical that this is addressed. I have previously expressed my concern regarding the ‘normalisation’ of overweight and obesity, referring to the increasing difficulty in discerning what is normal from abnormal due to the fact that being either above a healthy weight or obese is now so commonplace. The fact that 1 in five men and nearly half of women classified as having a ‘normal’ BMI were in fact found to be centrally obese is extremely concerning, and underlines the importance of promoting awareness of metabolic risk factors such as increased waist circumference, in addition to BMI.

The UK Chief Medical Officers’ guidelines on physical activity recommend that adults participate in 150 minutes of moderate intensity, aerobic, physical activity every week . Physical activity was found to be low among Baby Boomers. Not only did the authors find that people in their 50s were less active than those of the same age 10 years earlier, they also found that two-thirds of all Baby Boomers in their sample had undertaken no physical activity lasting more than 30 minutes in the past month. Significant geographical, socio-economic and ethnic inequalities exist in physical activity. I was surprised, for instance, to find that rates of inactivity were as high as 80% in Gateshead and Stoke on Trent. Physical activity has benefits in terms of cardiovascular health, mobility, weight management and even cognition. Clearly, this age group could benefit greatly from optimising physical activity levels to maximise their health both currently and in impending ‘older age’.

Lifestyle of older adults in England

Physical activity and weight

1 in 3 OF THOSE AGED 50-70 ARE OBESE according to BMI and this is much worse if you rely on waist circumference.


18% women and 19% of men smoke

65-70% who are smokers/ex smokers have never been asked to stop smoking by a doctor or nurse (so they say!)


65.6%    of Baby Boomers have not engaged in any moderate physical activity lasting 30 minutes or longer in the  past month

Amongst 50-60 year olds: Men are drinking  approx. 4-5 units a week less than 20 years earlier Women are drinking approx. 2 units a week more than 20 years earlier