Are you FATTER than you think? Like millions, these five people don't realise just how overweight they are - or the risks to their health

With the festive season over, many of us are planning to turn over a new leaf and shed a few pounds this year with diet and exercise.

And new research suggests that when it comes to weight, Britain is in dire need of a reality check.

A Bupa study published last week found that four in ten obese people consider themselves a ‘healthy’ size, and too many of us are ‘blissfully unaware’ of the true impact our lifestyles are having on our health.

Reality check: (left to right) Penny Green, Mike Bell, Stephanie Lowe, Stuart Phazey and Jason Rust

Experts called for better education about weight and the host of diseases that being overweight is linked to, including heart disease, cancer, diabetes and dementia.

So, are you fatter than you think?

We put five people to the test. Like many, they didn’t think their weight was a serious problem. So we checked their dimensions as well as giving them standard health checks. Chris Jones, head of physiology at Nuffield Health, where the tests were carried out, then analysed the results. Each underwent the following tests:

Body Mass Index (BMI): This measurement is used to assess whether you’re underweight, normal weight, overweight or obese for your height. A healthy BMI is between 18 and 25;  25 to 30 is overweight and 30 or above obese.

Waist to Hip Ratio (WHR): Too much fat around the middle is strongly linked to chronic diseases such as diabetes and cancer — that’s why being an apple shape (with a chunky waist) is more unhealthy than being a pear shape (where the weight sits on the hips and thighs).

Your dimensions are calculated using the WHR — just divide your waist measurement by your hip measurement.

You need to take urgent action if your ratio is more than 1.0 for a man (in other words, your waist is bigger than your hips so you are apple-shaped) or 0.8 for a woman because you are at greater risk of chronic diseases.

Blood pressure: High blood pressure will place strain on the heart and walls of the blood vessels — it doubles the risk of heart disease and increases the risk of stroke and blindness. The ideal is 120/80mmHg or below.

Aerobic fitness: This is measured using your pulse — the time interval between your heartbeats is used to find out how well your body takes up and uses oxygen. Aerobic fitness is linked to coronary artery disease, bowel cancer and depression.

The reading is a VO2 (or volume of oxygen) figure. The average for a 30-year-old man is 41-45 (for a woman, it’s 34-37); for a 40-year-old man, 36-41 (for a woman, 30-33); for a 50-year-old man, 33-36 (for a woman,  26-29).

Resting heart rate: A high rate may indicate strain on the heart and lungs; between 60 and 79 beats per minute is a normal level.

Blood glucose: High levels of blood sugar raise the risk of diabetes and heart disease. Less than 5.8 after not eating for 12 hours is a good level.

Cholesterol levels: A reading above 5.0 mmol/L raises the risk of blocked blood vessels, triggering strokes and heart attacks.


Penny Green, 51, a charity director, lives in Eaton Bray, Bedfordshire, with her husband and three children.

Penny Green says: 'I'm never going to be small, but I suspect I could do with losing a stone or two'

‘I’m never going to be small, but I suspect I could do with losing a stone or two. I find exercise difficult due to time constraints, plus problems and injuries with my feet and ankles.

‘I work for hours at a time at a computer and, until recently, spent a lot of time caring for my mum, who has dementia.

‘I have trouble sleeping and have been told I might have a thyroid problem — this is being investigated. Though I drink seven glasses of water a day, I also have seven cups of tea, too.’


Weight: 13st 11lb

Height: 5ft 8in

Waist: 42.5in

BMI: Overweight/borderline obese (29.6) — needs to lose 2st 2lb for a healthy BMI

Waist to hip ratio: Very high risk of chronic disease (0.92)

Blood pressure: Normal (127/8)

Aerobic fitness score: Fair (VO2: 23)

Resting heart rate: Borderline too fast (79 beats per minute)

Blood glucose: Normal (4.6)

Cholesterol: Raised (6.33)

EXPERT VERDICT: Unless she does something about her weight, Penny will be storing up a whole host of potential health problems for the future.

Her BMI is higher than it should be though, worryingly, it’s not dissimilar to many women of her age.

As women age, their tendency to store weight moves from the hips to the waist and this is where Penny stores it. This fat raises the risk of most chronic diseases such as arthritis, cardio-vascular disease, diabetes and cancer.

She says she’s been stressed lately — stress increases the production of the hormone cortisol, which can cause weight gain around the waist.

Caffeine also stimulates the release of stress hormones. If she does have a thyroid problem, then she must discuss the issue of medication with her GP as thyroid function can affect weight and cholesterol level.

If Penny aims to walk her dogs for 45 minutes at least three days a week, that will ease her into being active again, but she would need to break into a sweat.

PENNY SAYS: ‘Given that my mum has vascular dementia and being overweight increases the risk of it, I really want to get my weight down.

‘I believe I can go for a walk around three times a week — before, I thought getting slightly short of breath was a sign to stop. Now I’ll keep going.

‘I also had no idea that stress and caffeine could be contributory to my weight. So I will swap to fruit teas.’


Mike Bell, 58, a logistics manager, lives in Shoreham, East Sussex, with his wife Sandra.

Mike Bell says: 'I gave up smoking in February so I'm pleased with that, but it has made it harder to lose weight'

‘My wife is slim and I know she would like me to lose some weight for health reasons. But I don’t think I’m too bad — I don’t need to lose much, maybe half a stone or at the most a stone.

‘I gave up smoking in February — I used to smoke 20 a day — so I’m pleased with that, but it has made it harder to lose weight.

‘I am also on statins for high cholesterol and, as for exercise, I go for a bike ride once a week, but I’d like to do more. I admit I drink very little water, and about 20 units of alcohol a week and seven cups of tea or coffee a day.’


Weight: 13st 1lb

Height: 5ft 7in

Waist: 40in

BMI:  Overweight (27.9 — needs to lose 1st 4lb)

Waist to hip ratio: High risk (0.9)

Blood pressure: Normal (121/80)

Aerobic fitness score: Poor (VO2: 27)

Resting heart rate: High  (82, 97 when he stands up)

Blood glucose: Normal (5.3)

Cholesterol: Raised (5.63)

EXPERT VERDICT: Being male and aged over 45, Mike is already more predisposed to cardiovascular disease. But his waist measurement also puts him in a high risk bracket — as soon as you go over 40in (101cm) your risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke, diabetes and certain cancers such as bowel cancer increases dramatically.

The fact that Mike is on statins to control his cholesterol and yet it is still elevated, means the issue may not be adequately controlled.

Mike must take steps to improve his health. A bike ride once a week is better than nothing, but he needs to increase his fitness. Mike should aim for 30 minutes of exercise five days a week where his heart rate exceeds 120 beats per minute (but no more than 140).

MIKE SAYS: ‘I had no idea my weight and waist size put me at risk of so many diseases. But a bit of exercise could sort out a multitude of sins.’


Stephanie Lowe, 29, a writer from South-East London.

Stephanie Lowe writes: 'I've accepted that you can't change the shape you are born with'

‘I’m a classic bell shape — a size 12 on top and size 16 on the bottom — and I’ve accepted that you can’t change the shape you are born with. I do quite a lot of exercise — mainly rowing — so I think I’m pretty healthy, but I do need quite a lot of food.

‘I get snappy if I’m hungry. I make sure I have five glasses of water a day, and limit tea or coffee to two cups, and just ten units alcohol a week.’


Weight: 11st 2lb

Height: 5ft 2in

Waist: 33in

BMI: Overweight (28.5 — needs  to lose 1st)

Waist to hip ratio: Average risk (0.72)

Blood pressure: Normal (119/77)

Aerobic fitness score: Good (VO2: 42)

Resting heart rate: Excellent (55)

Blood glucose: Normal (4.6)

Cholesterol: Normal (4.29)

EXPERT VERDICT: Stephanie is about a stone heavier than she should be for an ideal BMI. But because she exercises regularly, her aerobic fitness is good and her resting heart rate is an excellent 55 beats per minute. Her high BMI may be partly to do with the extra muscle she’ll have from exercising (muscle is heavier than fat). Or it could be portion size that’s to blame, rather than what she eats.

STEPHANIE SAYS: ‘I hadn’t realised I needed to lose a stone, so I’m shocked to find I’m officially overweight because of my BMI.

‘I do like a couple of glasses of red wine in the evening and they tend to lead to me eating chocolate, or stodgy hangover food the next day.  

‘Perhaps I need to look at my portion sizes.’


Stuart Phazey, 25, is from Canterbury, Kent, and works in military rehabilitation.

Stuart Phazey says: 'When I was a student I did a lot of exercise but since leaving university I've put on a few pounds'

‘When I was a student I did a lot of exercise and played cricket three times a week — but since leaving university I’ve put on a few pounds.

'I’m not doing much exercise with my job and I’ve had a knee injury that has prevented me from exercising. Things have been frantic, too, because my partner hasn’t been well, so I’ve been eating ready meals.’


Weight: 14st 7lb

Height: 5ft 9in

Waist: 36in

BMI: Obese (30 — needs to lose  2st 5lb)

Waist to hip ratio: Moderate to high risk (0.88)

Blood pressure: Borderline  high (139/81)

Aerobic fitness score: Fair (VO2: 41)

Resting heart rate:  Too fast (85)

Blood glucose: Borderline  raised (5.8)

Cholesterol: Raised (5.84)

EXPERT VERDICT: For a man of just 25, Stuart’s results aren’t good — his body doesn’t appear to be coping well with his excess weight — his heart rate, cholesterol and blood glucose are all raised, something you wouldn’t expect to see in every overweight person of his age.

Research has shown that the longer you are obese, the more likely you are to face high blood pressure and heart disease.

He has raised cholesterol and blood pressure, probably caused by having to grab ready meals — which are often high in saturated fat and salt.

He needs to take action or his  risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes will be much higher.

But someone of his age could  see a big improvement in his scores in just three months by undertaking regular exercise three to five times a week for 30 to 45 minutes at a time.

The more muscle you have, the higher your metabolism.

STUART SAYS: ‘This has definitely been an eye-opener — I didn’t know what effect my weight was having on my health. I’m getting married in June and really want to be in shape. Also, diabetes runs in my family, so I don’t want my glucose to be any higher.

‘However, one thing I’m not too bothered about is the obese BMI rating — I’ve always been stocky, even when I was thinner.’


Jason Rust, 42, a commercial driver, lives in Cambridge with his wife Sally and two children.

Jason Rust says: 'I've got a sweet tooth and what starts as a couple of biscuits with a coffee turns into half a packet'

‘I’ve got a sweet tooth and what starts as a couple of biscuits with a coffee turns into half a packet.

‘My wife Sally makes really nice, healthy meals, but I just don’t like many vegetables. I drink five cups of coffee a day and just one glass of water.

‘Until a year ago, I used to have a much more active job, as a plasterer, but now the only exercise I do is walking the dog — usually once a day for about half an hour.

‘Sally loves running, but it’s my idea of hell — I’ve also got asthma so it makes me really chesty.

‘However, I do know Sally would like me to lose some weight for my health.

‘I would describe myself as cuddly.’


Weight: 14st 6lb

Height: 5ft 10in

Waist: 38in

BMI: Borderline obese (29.7  — needs to lose 2st)

Waist to hip ratio: High (0.94)

Blood pressure: Very high (149/105)

Aerobic fitness score: Average (VO2: 37)

Resting heart rate: Normal (64)

Blood glucose: Borderline high (5.9)

Cholesterol: Raised (5.71)

EXPERT VERDICT: Jason’s blood pressure reading is very high and he needs to have this investigated by his GP as soon as possible.

Chronically high blood pressure doubles the risk of heart disease and, if uncontrolled, it increases the risk of stroke by four to  six times.

Excess body fat can lead to increased pressure on the blood vessels within the body, resulting in high blood pressure, and raised cholesterol and insulin levels.

Jason should ensure he has further tests with his GP as he may be at risk of pre-diabetes, a condition that indicates the body is losing its ability to control blood sugar levels and which, if untreated, can lead to diabetes.

The good news is that he’s in the average range for fitness and his resting heart rate is normal.

However, if he joined his wife at the gym he could make a real difference to his health.

JASON SAYS: ‘I’m actually a stone lighter than I thought. But this  has given me a kick up the backside to lose some more weight — especially as a friend has recently had a heart attack and I’ve since learned there’s high blood pressure in my family.

‘I had a test when I was a plasterer a couple of years ago and it was fine — so the job must be to blame.

‘The diabetes risk was rather unexpected, too.

‘I’m going to try to stop eating so much rubbish and drink more water.’

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