All over the world people are getting more overweight and obese. Obesity is now an epidemic. The World Health Organization defines obesity as having a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher. The American Medical Association classified it as a disease. More women than men are obese. Children are getting overweight and obese more so than ever. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends the use of the BMI to screen for overweight and obesity in children. The BMI-for-age percentile growth chart is a way of assessing children’s weights for boys and girls of similar ages. Obesity used to be considered a sign of health, wealth and prosperity. In some cultures, men prefer women who are overweight or obese. Women are considered “fluffy” which is their preference.
What is causing this obesity crisis?
Over the years there has been a growing trend in obesity particularly in western societies. In the United States, about 34% of adults and 15-20% of children and adolescents are obese. Why are so many people overweight and obese? Diets and lifestyle practices change when societies get more modern. Does modernization of societies, changes in diets and lifestyle practices, eating foods high in calories, not moving as we should contribute to this “globesity” epidemic? Ongoing research is finding answers to this question.
Different diets exist informing us about what we are to eat. When I attended medical school in the 1970’s the focus of our medical curriculum was the treatment of disease and not prevention. We learned about the different systems in the body to process the foods we eat, the components of various types of food and the value they bring to the body. Problems occur in the cells of our body when there are not enough nutrients required to carry out these processes. We are not aware that something is happening, there are no signs and symptoms at this stage. When many cells are damaged we begin to feel the effects in parts of the body that are affected and not functioning as they should. Eating a balanced diet every day gives us the right amounts of healthy proteins, carbohydrates, fats and plant nutrients needed by our cells to stay healthy. This allows us to have healthy tissues and organs.
Consequences of obesity
In the past, small farmers grew different crops and raised a variety of animals which were enough to feed their families and the community. Fresh fruits and vegetables were readily available to prepare healthy meals. Wide open spaces allowed children to run up and down while playing and adults were active in carrying out the various duties on the farm. Cars trains and buses were not readily available so people had to walk, sometimes for long distances to get to where they were going. Mass food production has replaced many small farms. Food sometimes is transported over long distances, kept in storage before being sold to consumers. Food processing, less grass-fed cattle, the addition of sugar and salt may not supply the required nutrients.
The choices we make about the foods we eat and our lifestyle affects our health when we get older. Our blood sugar tends to rise when our waistline increases as a result of increasing amounts of fat in our belly. There is an increase in insulin production from the pancreas when our blood sugar is high. Insulin maintains our blood sugar levels in the normal range. The result of cells not responding to insulin is the release of more insulin from the pancreas. This condition is called insulin resistance, the precursor to diabetes. Information from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reveals the rates for type 2 diabetes have tripled in the United States over the last 30 years due to the global epidemic of obesity. The World Health Organization (WHO) projects that diabetes will be the seventh leading cause of death worldwide.
Waist measurement in women above 34 inches, in men above 37 inches increases the risk for heart disease and heart attack. Fat accumulating in organs such as the liver interferes with its normal functioning. Cancers of the breast, gallbladder, womb, kidney, pancreas, liver, stomach, ovary, esophagus occur more often in obese persons. Obesity affects the skin. Increased thickness, dryness, sweating, discolored patches found at the back of the neck, armpits and inner thigh may indicate insulin resistance and diabetes. Poor circulation increases the chances of poor wound healing. Overweight and obese children and adults may suffer from poor body image, depression and other psychological problems
Can obesity be reversed?
The answer is yes. Reading food labels when we go grocery shopping is something that we should do. We are better able to understand the contents of what we are buying and consuming. Our bodies need healthy proteins, carbohydrates, fats, fiber, vitamins, minerals and other nutrients from fruits and vegetables every day. It is essential for us to drink water and we should be more active. 30% protein, 30% fat, 40% carbohydrates are the recommended portions to eat. Fiber helps our gut to function better. A healthy bowel with good bacteria helps to better digest and absorb the nutrients from food. Eating a protein snack in between meals satisfies hunger. Adequate amounts of protein keep you feeling full longer, food cravings are controlled. Protein is a fat burner. It gives you energy and you do not feel as tired as you used to. Protein maintains your muscle mass while you are losing weight to prevent you from getting flabby. The fiber present in fruits and vegetables helps not only to control your weight but lowers fat absorption. This helps in maintaining blood cholesterol within the normal levels.
Exercise is important in achieving good health. Walking for 30 minutes every day has been shown to lower risk for diabetes. Losing approximately 1-2 pounds per week is a healthy way to lose weight. Dieting is temporary, healthy living is what we should try to do for the rest of our lives. It is said that the journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step. Why not take the first step today!
“Doing the best for this moment puts you in the best place for the next moment” —–Oprah Winfrey