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Obesity – facts and things to know

What is Obesity?

Obesity is a major global epidemic that affects everyone. Obese people are always at a high risk for chronic diseases such as heart disorders, type 2 diabetes, and cancer. Research by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that at least 39.4% of American adults and 17 percent of teenagers and children in the US are clinically obese.

Obesity is said to manifest when a person has a body mass index of 30 and above. A person’s body mass index takes into consideration his height and weight. However, it does have some limitations. The relationship between body fat and body mass index may be influenced by such factors as age, ethnicity, sex and muscle mass. It should also be noted that body mass index makes no distinction between excess muscle, fat or bone mass, and neither does it give any indication of fat distribution among individuals. These limitations notwithstanding, BMI is still widely used as an indicator of excess body weight.

The causes of obesity

Obesity is mainly caused by excess energy intake. In other words, when energy intake is greater than energy expenditure, the resulting condition is called obesity. It should be noted that energy intake refers to calorie intake, while energy expenditure refers to physical activities and other things that causes us to spend more energy. Some specific causes of obesity include:

  • Living a sedentary lifestyle

  • Consumption of foods high in calories and fats

  • Lack of sleep…this may lead to hormonal imbalances that makes you feel hungry and crave for high-calorie foods

  • Genetics also plays a role. It affects the body’s processing of food into energy and fat storage.

  • Age may also be a factor. As a person gets older, muscle mass gets lower, leading to a slower metabolic rate and weight gain.

  • Pregnancy also results in weight gain (this is usually difficult to lose, leading to obesity).

  • Some medical conditions may lead to weight gain. These include:

  • Polycystic ovary syndrome: this leads to an imbalance of male and female hormones

  • Cushing’s syndrome: this results from excess quantities of the hormone cortisol in the body system

  • The Prader-Willi syndrome: this is a rare condition. Sufferers are born with it and it causes excessive hunger.

  • Hypothyroidism: This term describes an underactive thyroid. It is a condition in which the thyroid gland fails to produce adequate quantities of some important hormones.

  • Osteoarthritis causes obesity through pain that forces the individual to lead an inactive or sedentary life.

Risk factors for obesity

The risk of obesity is increased by a complex mix of psychological, environmental and genetic factors.

Psychological factors such as depression may lead to weight gain, as individuals may turn to food intake as a source of emotional comfort. Another case is that of smoking. Quitting smoking is good, but it may lead to weight gain. Hence, it is important to focus on exercise and diet while quitting from the act. Medications such as antidepressants, steroids and birth control pills may also raise a person’s risk of getting obese.

Environmental factors such as school, home or the community can influence a person’s eating habits and active life. For instance, a person may not know how to cook good and healthy meals due to his environment, or may think that he cannot afford healthy meals.

The complications

Certain health complications accompany obesity. When a person has a high ratio of body fat to muscle, more strain is placed on the bones as well as the organs in the body. Inflammation is also increased, and this in most cases leads to cancer. Obesity also leads to type 2 diabetes. Other health complications, some of which are life-threatening include:

  • Heart disease
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Certain cancers (such as endometrial, breast and colon)
  • Gallbladder disease
  • Fatty liver disease
  • Stroke
  • High cholesterol
  • Arthritis
  • Infertility and
  • Sleep apnea.

Why is obesity so much growing in the world?

Obesity is increasing…that is no news. But why?

Currently, the United States retains its unenviable position as the most obese nation of the world. It is equally a problem for other nations of the world.

There is a simple explanation for the rising incidence of obesity and that is…people are eating more than they work. There is an increase in the consumption of high fat foods, and high calorie foods, and a decrease in physical activity.

Processed foods with high content of sugar, salt and artificial ingredients have less costly, and easier to transport, plus they have a longer shelf-life compared to fresh foods. Because of this, these foods now take up space in people’s cupboards, replacing natural diets. Even in low income countries, it is easier to purchase processed foods. The environment is the major cause of this.

The rise in sedentary living is also a factor to be considered. There is an increase in screen time, people are taking up more white-collar jobs, while schools offer less physical education to their students.

Research also shows that increased chemicals and pollution in our environment also lead to obesity via alteration of the microbiome and metabolic activities in people.

Efforts should be made to enlighten people on the dangers of poor feeding habits, a sedentary life and the effects of environmental pollution with regards to obesity.

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