Lifestyle Issues


Research has shown that smoking can be more damaging to women than men; a recent study suggested women that smoke regularly will live 7 years less than those that don’t smoke, while men that smoke regularly are likely to live 5.5 years less than those that don’t smoke. Aside from shortening life expectancy smoking can have a number of damaging effects on women; these include:

  • Increased risk of heart disease
  • Increased risk of cervical cancer, breast cancer and ovarian cancer
  • Increased risk of miscarriage, ectopic pregnancies and premature birth
  • Increased risk of premature menopause
  • Increased risk of infertility
  • Increased risk of menstrual problems
  • Increased risk of osteoporosis

Quitting smoking

There is a huge amount of help available from the NHS for those that want to stop smoking; call the NHS quitline or have a look at their website for more details and talk to your GP about giving up smoking. You can join a local stop smoking group or choose to go it alone with resources and help from your GP and the NHS stop smoking advice line. There is also a special service for expectant mothers that want to give up smoking.

What are the benefits of giving up?

Aside from drastically reducing the chance of suffering from any of the serious health conditions listed above, quitting smoking will also improve your general health and mental wellbeing as well as bolstering your bank balance. Stopping smoking will also improve your dental health and will prevent others around you suffering the damaging effects of your cigarettes; your house, hair and clothes will also smell much fresher.


Binge drinking amongst young women is one of the gravest concerns for both politicians and health experts, with thousands of girls suffering injuries, abuse and accidents as a result of overindulging at the weekends. Drinking, in addition to contributing to serious health conditions, also affects the ability to make sound judgements and thousands of women are having unprotected sex and putting themselves in danger by doing things they would never dream of doing if they were sober; unsurprisingly the number of unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections is increasing amongst young women aged between 16 and 30.

Excessive, regular drinking is also on the increase in the UK, with more women than ever dying as a direct result of excessive alcohol consumption. Heavy drinking can contribute to the following health conditions:

  • Increased risk of several forms of cancer
  • Increased risk of heart disease
  • Increased risk of liver cirrhosis
  • Increased risk of kidney failure
  • Increased risk of depression
  • Increased risk of strokes

How much should I be drinking?

NHS guidelines recommend a weekly maximum intake of 14 units for women; this equates to 2 small glasses of wine each night of the week or 2 shots of vodka per night, for example. Women are not advised to drink more than 2 units per day on a regular basis and health experts warn against the dangers of binge drinking. In the UK, a huge proportion of women are currently exceeding their weekly allowance in just one or two nights; this can be extremely damaging to the body.


Eating disorders

Eating disorders are increasingly common in the UK, with young women aged between 15 and 25 most likely to be affected, according to NHS statistics. Nowadays, with constant exposure to thin models and celebrities in the media, many young women feel under pressure to stay thin and will resort to extreme behaviour in order to look like their idols. Although some people are naturally very thin and can eat a lot without gaining weight, most people cannot eat as much as they want if they want to maintain a certain body weight; consequently, many young women are restricting their diets in order to lose weight. Eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia are increasingly prevalent amongst young women.

Worrying about your weight is part and parcel of being a young woman these days but when it becomes an obsession it can be extremely dangerous and potentially fatal. When food becomes an enemy and people develop a distorted view of themselves, they are usually diagnosed with an eating disorder.

Anorexia is a disorder which is usually caused by a number of different factors which affect the way the person feels about the way they look; for example, a person suffering with anorexia may feel like they look fat, when in reality they are painfully thin, with protruding bones. Anorexia is a form of control because the person can control what they eat; often people with anorexia have suffered from a lack of confidence in the past and have very little self-worth. Anorexia can begin fairly harmlessly if someone wants to lose a bit of weight; but it can develop into an obsession where significant weight loss is the ultimate goal. In many cases, the girls with anorexia lose huge amounts of weight and weigh only as much as young children. Anorexia, if left untreated can contribute to organ failure, infertility, depression and even death.

Bulimia is a condition where people eat large amounts of food and are then sick afterwards; the hunger they experience is often indicative of an emotional problem, rather than a physical need for food. Weight loss is usually more gradual than anorexia so it can be harder to detect if somebody has the disorder (look out for signs such as stashing large amounts of food, skipping mealtimes and spending long periods of time in the toilet if you are worried about a friend or loved one). Bulimia can cause severe damage to the internal organs, due to the action of being sick and the acid secreted by the body; it can also cause damage to the teeth and throat.

Treating eating disorders

Many people feel that treatment for an eating disorder is as simple as telling somebody to eat; however, the illness is much more complex than just a reluctance to eat and it should be treated with a great deal of compassion and understanding. In many cases, talking to somebody about an eating disorder can help a lot, whether it be a friend, relative, teacher or a GP. Treatment varies according to the severity of the situation and the person involved; in some cases it can be treated gradually using a course of cognitive behavioural therapy and counselling, while in other cases, more radical approaches may be required and the patient may have to spend time in hospital or in a special eating disorder unit.

Help for eating disorder sufferers

If you are worried about a friend or relative you can try talking to them or talk to your GP about how you can help them. If you are worried that you might have an eating disorder, do not hesitate to talk to somebody about it; your GP will be able to help you and sort out the treatment you need. You can turn to family members or friends for help and support and if you don’t want to talk to anyone you know you can contact the Eating Disorders Association, Caraline or Beat anonymously for confidential support and advice. There are also a number of online forums where you can chat to others in a similar situation and a huge range of pages with advice and tips. The NHS website also has advice and information and links to charities and organisations that can help.


Obesity is an increasingly serious problem in the UK, with a staggering 1 in 5 UK women now classified as obese. Obesity is a result of the body carrying excessive amounts of body weight; it can cause a number of serious health issues including:

  • Increased risk of heart disease
  • Increased risk of strokes
  • Increased risk of organ failure
  • Increased risk of cancer (a recent study has suggested that obesity is responsible for around 6,000 cases of cancer in women, with the chances of developing leukaemia, kidney cancer, pancreatic cancer, breast cancer and ovarian cancer increased significantly by being overweight)
  • Increased risk of respiratory problems
  • Decreased self-esteem
  • Increased risk of depression
  • Increased risk of sleep apnoea (a condition which affects breathing during sleep; this condition can be fatal and people that are obese often have to wear an oxygen mask while they sleep to prevent them from dying)
  • Increased risk of infertility (obesity has been proven to contribute to Polycystic ovarian syndrome)
  • Increased risk of diabetes
  • Reduced life expectancy

Treating obesity

The most effective treatment for obesity is a change in lifestyle; exercising regularly and eating well will drastically improve general health as well as helping to lose weight. In extreme cases, where diets and exercise have failed, some people may resort to drastic weight loss surgical procedures, such as gastric bypass surgery or having a gastric band fitted; these procedures are usually very effective but they do carry risks and should be viewed as a last resort rather than a quick-fix solution.

Preventing obesity

It is important to adopt a healthy lifestyle as early in life as possible; what you eat and how much you move can have serious implications for your health. Research has consistently shown that several serious health conditions, such as those listed above, are significantly more common in people that are overweight than those that have a stable, healthy body weight. If you are obese and want help to lose weight there are several different things you can do; consult your GP to discuss healthy eating and find about additional sources of support and information. You can enlist the help of a nutritionist and a personal trainer, join a local weight loss group, become a member of the gym and look up resources on exercise and diet on the internet. If you feel self conscious and don’t want to exercise in front of other people, get yourself a fitness DVD and do it at home. Clear out all the unhealthy food from your cupboards and stock up on fresh, healthy foods. Try to cook at home as much as possible; fast food and ready meals often contain a lot of salt and added sugar; if you cook yourself, you know exactly what you’re eating. Try to get the whole family involved; even the smallest changes could make a huge difference to their lives as well as yours.