Why Healthy Doesn’t Mean Slim

We live in a society where if you’re slim, you’re considered healthy, and if you’re not, you’re unhealthy. The truth is that we shouldn’t rely on weight as an indication of health.

Losing weight isn’t easy. Weight loss diets often require so much restriction of calories, carbs or fat that it’s natural to start feeling deprived. Even when you have lost weight, there’s a good amount of research showing that you’re likely to gain it back over the next few years.

Many experts now believe that focusing on weight loss as the ultimate goal isn’t helpful, and that promoting healthy behaviours is more achievable and may have better outcomes.

With this approach, “if a person loses weight through changing their health behaviours, weight loss is a beneficial side effect, not the primary goal,” says accredited practising dietitian Zoe Nicholson in the RACGP’s newsGP.

Don’t focus on weight

There are a number of problems with making weight loss your only goal, believes Nicholson. While you can actively take steps to improve eating and exercise habits, you may not lose the desired amount of weight. And without the visible change on the scales, you may not be motivated to continue.

Reduced body weight tends to get the credit for improved health, but this is often also the result of changes such as eating better and exercising more.


Healthy behaviour and longer life

There are a number of studies that link a higher Body Mass Index (BMI) with a shorter lifespan. Fewer have investigated healthy behaviours and longevity, independent of body weight. One largescale study of over 11,000 people, published in the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine, examined the impact of four behaviours on death rates: eating more fruits and vegetables; exercising regularly; moderate alcohol intake; and not smoking. The researchers then crunched the numbers according to people’s body weight.

The results? Size mattered, to a point. Being thinner was protective – but only if you didn’t have a healthy lifestyle. Having a BMI over 30 increased your risk of dying early – but only if you weren’t following the four healthy behaviours.

What the study did show was that the association between body weight and dying early dropped away almost completely once behaviours were taken into account.

What can we take away from research such as this? Changing your eating patterns and increasing your activity may or may not lead to the desired drop in kilos. But no matter the shift on the scales, your health is going to benefit.

Look After Your Skin

If you are washing your hands frequently or you work with detergents, solvents, oils or acids, you’re at risk of contact dermatitis.

And in today’s environment, when you are encouraged to wash your hands thoroughly for at least 20 seconds every time you handle objects others might also have touched, you are likely to be washing your hands much more frequently than you normally would.

Even before the current encouragement to thoroughly wash your hands, if you worked in the health care industry, handled food, or worked with your hands, you are most at risk of occupational contact dermatitis (OCD).

It is important to note that OCD can affect people from any type of work, including office work. Or indeed, it can affect you even if you’re working from home.


So how do I know if I have OCD?

If you’ve got skin that’s red, dry, swollen, itchy and sore, these are all signs of OCD, and it can have a significant impact on your ability to do your job. OCD is one of the most commonly reported and underestimated occupational diseases. Worldwide, it’s estimated there are between 50 and 190 cases per 100,000 workers each year.

The two most common types of OCD are irritant contact dermatitis and allergic contact dermatitis.

Irritant contact dermatitis:

Approximately 75 per cent of OCD cases are irritant contact dermatitis (ICD). ICD can develop quickly, from accidental exposure to a strong irritant. Most cases, however, are caused by frequent exposure to a weak irritant, such as water, soap or detergent, so anyone who regularly washes their hands is at risk. These can dry and irritate the skin, eventually causing an inflammatory reaction. Contact with a mild irritant may initially only cause your skin to redden, but after continued exposure you may notice small lesions or sores appearing on the reddened area. If you think the ICD is being caused by the soap you are using at home, you may be able to reduce the recurrence by changing your brand of soap.


Allergic contact dermatitis:

About 25 per cent of OCD cases are allergic contact dermatitis (ACD). This is different from ICD as it involves your immune system responding to a substance you’re working with. This allergic response can take days, weeks or even years to develop. Allergens that commonly cause ACD include cosmetic ingredients such as fragrances, metals in jewellery (like nickel), latex, some textiles, and strong glues.

Treatment for OCD includes avoiding the cause where possible, using protective clothing and gloves, and applying moisturising treatments that cover your skin with a protective film.


Look out for dermatitis

Make sure you regularly check your skin for early signs of dermatitis: dryness, itching and redness. This may develop into flaking, scaling, cracks, swelling and blisters. If you’re at work, report any cases of dermatitis to your employer who may refer you to an Occupational Health Doctor or Nurse. If you’re at home, consult your doctor.


28 April is World Day for Safety and Health at Work.