The Obesity Epidemic: What Needs to Be Done

Obesity: What You Need to Know

Obesity is a disorder in which a person has abnormal or excessive fat accumulation that may impair their health. A persons’ Body Mass Index (BMI) is a simple index of weight-to-height that is most commonly used to classify overweight and obesity in adults. BMI is defined as a person’s weight in kilos divided by the square of his/her height in meters (kg/m2).

– a BMI greater than or equal to 25 is overweight

– a BMI greater than or equal to 30 is obesity

BMI provides the most appropriate means of defining obesity and overweight in the general population, as it is the same for both sexes and all ages of adults. It’s not without its inaccuracies, however, as it gives you a definition of your body mass-height ratio without actually measuring what your body mass consists of. For instance, it’s not uncommon to find a bodybuilder at 1.77m (5ft 10in) and 101 kg (16 stone). This person would have a BMI of 32.2 and would be classed as obese. However on looking at the bodybuilder, who may well be 6% body fat, it’s obvious there is no obesity. There are other measurements that can give an indication as to whether somebody is overweight or obese, including (but not limited to): Waist-Hip ratio, Waist-Height ratio and Lean-Fat Mass readings. BMI does however remain the best tool for classifying obesity in the general population.

Causes of Obesity

There is no getting away from the underlying cause of obesity; there is an energy imbalance between calories consumed and calories expended. Simply put, to become obese you need to eat more than you burn off. This comes down to the lifestyle choices and lack of physical activity of the individual who is obese.

There are some genetic causations of obesity that can increase ones appetite or determine how much fat your body stores. And indeed there are some medical disorders including; Cushings Syndrome (hormonal), Under Active Thyroid Gland (hypothyroidism; Again hormonal), and Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS). However these pale into insignificance when it comes to the cause of the vast majority of global obesity.

Globally there has been an increase in the intake of energy-dense foods that are high in fat, salt and sugars and contain very low nutritional value. This accompanied by a global decrease in physical activity, due in part to the increasingly sedentary nature of many forms of work, changing modes of transportation and increase urbanization, forms the platform from which our global obesity epidemic flourishes.

Health Consequences

We are all told that Obesity is a global epidemic that is sure to be the largest socio-economic burden on the planet in the near future, and we all seem to accept this. However do we really know why being Obese is so horrific? What is it about carrying an excess amount body fat that is crippling our (and many others) nation?

A look at obesity in more detail:

Obesity is concerning subcutaneous (under the skin) body fat that is split into different compartments of your body, some more serious than others.

– Lower Body Fat (all areas of subcutaneous fat below your hip bone, gluteal and leg) including marbling of fat between the muscle groups, and

– Upper Body Fat (all areas of subcutaneous fat in the superficial and deep trunk and breast.

These stores of body fat act as a reservoir for fat storage and release. Fat in your body is stored in cells known as adipocytes. In obesity, adipocytes become resistant to you body’s attempt to discard of excess fat, which in turn leads to an even higher concentration of fat in these stores and, as a consequence, flowing into the bloodstream to be circulated around the body. Simply put the more fat you have, the more efficient your body becomes at storing fat. The consequences of an increase in fat storage include:

– Type 2 Diabetes

– Hypertension (High Blood Pressure)

– Cardiovascular Disease (Coronary Artery Disease, Stroke, Heart Attack)

– Cancer (Pancreatic, Throat, Kidney, Rectum, Colon)

– Gastro-Intestinal Disease

– Kidney Disease

– Disrupted Menstrual Cycle

– Infertility

– Obstetrical Risks (Still Birth, Caesarean Section)

– Musculoskeletal Disorders (Osteoarthritis)

Disease risk from the above is directly linked to an increase in BMI. These conditions are not only limited to the adult population, far from it. Childhood obesity is associated with a higher chance of obesity, premature death and disability in adulthood. But in addition to increased future risks, obese children experience breathing difficulties, increased risk of fractures, hypertension, early markers of cardiovascular disease, insulin resistance and psychological effects.

The Facts

If not yet, then this is when you will realise that Obesity is serious, serious problem.

– Obesity is the fifth leading risk for global deaths.

– At least 2.8 million adults dies each year as a result (30,000 in the UK alone).

– 44% of the diabetes burden, 23% of heart disease and between 7-41% of certain cancers is attributed to overweight and obesity.

– 1.5 billion adults are overweight, of these, nearly 200 million men and 300 million women are obese.

– Overall, more than one in ten of the world’s adult populations are obese.

– In 2010, 43 million children under 5 were overweight.

– An estimated $100 billion is spent on obesity each year worldwide.

– The likelihood is that somebody you know will die of a disease related to obesity and overweight.

What we do now… What we need to do?

It doesn’t take a genius to realise that obesity is a problem that isn’t going away. If you don’t believe this, then just take a look at the national statistics for ‘obesity, overweight, physical activity and diet’ over the last 10 years. There is a steady increase in the amount of people with the disease and the amount of people set to have it in years to come. What’s worrying is that there’s also a steady increase in the amount being done to prevent and treat the problem, (and I believe this to be true).

Many people will have their own opinion as to why this is the case, most blaming either the greed of the obese person or their poor education surrounding health, physical activity and diet. My opinion: there is no single cause for blame. Yes in some cases people will be unaware of the potential health risks associated with a poor nutritional status, but there are also those who are fully aware and simply can’t afford the cost of healthy food (a cost that’s growing at a seemingly exponential rate).

With the cost to manufacture processed foods remaining lower than the cost to farm and supply foods from fresh local sources, the price of a healthy diet is always going to remain a problem. One can only hope that the government intervenes sooner rather than later (which may well be the case if the socio-economic cost of obesity continues to rise). The need to educate people as to the risks of a poor nutritional status is essential. Everybody knows of obesity, but very few actually understand the perils one faces if they slip into the morbidly obese ‘bracket’. However, education is most certainly becoming more accessible to, well, everyone. The Internet, social media and government are all on a push to spread the healthy word.

So what is it that’s holding the fight against obesity and overweight back? For me the problem stems from our lifestyle. All you have to do is compare the lifestyles of people 50 years ago with today and then compare the rates of obesity. Our day to day lives are steadily are becoming longer, more and more sedentary, and increasingly stressful.

How many people actually work a job that involves much more movement than a pen to paper, or typing on a keyboard (oh and the occasional stroll to Gregs for breakfast lunch and second lunch)?

How many people walk/ride to work any more?

How many people truly hit their daily-recommended exercise quota?

How many kids go outside to play with their friends?

The truth is, our lifestyles now involve finding different ways we can sit down for extended periods of time. Whether it’s for 8 hours in front of your computer screen at work, 4 hours in front your TV at when you get home, or an hour in the queue for the McDonalds drive through because you can’t be bothered to get up and walk 30 yards to the counter.

Nothing is going to happen overnight and there is only so much that education and bringing the cost of healthy food will do. The truth is, unless we change, nothing will change.

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