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Obesity: A Constantly Growing Problem

Updated on January 18, 2018

Obesity is a disease that is considered by the World Health Organization (WHO) to be an escalating epidemic in many developed nations, including the United States (US) and the United Kingdom (UK). In addition, the WHO, as well as health professionals, state that obesity is one of the greatest neglected public health problems of our time. Experts from both countries have noted that deaths from obesity are the second most preventable deaths next to smoking. Excessive amounts of body fat significantly increase the risk of developing other medical conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, gallstones, and certain cancers. However, there are steps which can be taken to deal with this problem.

Studies have shown that the US and UK populations are increasing in weight at an alarming rate. In the US alone, more than 69% of the adult population is considered to be overweight. What is even more of a surprise is that in the US, the energy value of fat has decreased in the last ten years, but people are still getting heavier. In the UK, the numbers are just as alarming with 24% of men and 26% of women being classified as obese. Furthermore, over half of the adult UK population is considered overweight.

Although 'overweight' and 'obese' are not necessarily the same, overweight individuals are still at risk for developing conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and cancers. Howvere, the risk is not as high when compared to obese individuals. Nevertheless, overweight individuals, like the obese, should strive to reach recommended weight guidelines for their body frame. Individuals must understand how to determine what body classification they fall under by using a formula called the Body Mass Index - BMI for short. BMI has become the medical standard used to define obesity. It is an index of a person's weight in relation to height, determined by dividing the weight by the square of the height. The formula is as follows:

  • BMI = weight (kg) / height (m2) or BMI = weight (lb) X 703 / height (in2)

The table below interprets the BMI number value with relation to a weight category. The recommended or 'healthy' weight BMI value ranges from 18.5 to 24.9 and corresponds to the lowest health risks. A BMI of 25 to 29.9 represents an overweight individual while values of 30 and above depict obesity.

BMI Values for Adults

Extreme Obesity
< 18.5
18.5 to 24.9
25 - 29.9

So what causes one to be overweight or obese? An individual gains weight when their total calorie intake is greater than their energy expenditure. In other words, a person becomes overweight when they take in more calories than they burn off with daily physical activity. This imbalance is further influenced by a combination of genetic and psychological factors. Some individuals have a genetic makeup that results in a slower metabolism, while others may turn to eating as a method of coping with emotional distress. However, there is another important factor contributing to obesity - environment. In the 1980s, the food market exploded with products claiming to be low-calorie and/or low-fat and people thought they could get away with eating more. Unfortunately, when you eat too much of a low-calorie or low-fat food, the excess calories are stored as fat. The western world is also famous for their large food portions, which many consumers interpret as being a normal serving size.

How do you tackle this constantly growing problem? First of all, you need to realize that there are no easy paths to losing weight as are advertised in the media. Losing weight requires hard work and persistence. Next, you need to increase your level of physical activity. This doesn't necessarily mean running a marathon or training for the Olympics. It can be as simple as walking to work rather than driving or taking the stairs instead of the elevator. We are a society that enjoys the comforts of technology and often don't realize that today's lifestyle is less physically active as compared to past generations. I cannot stress enough the importance of regular physical activity in regulating your weight. My recommendations include the following:

  • brisk walking at least 30 minutes each day
  • using stairs instead of elevators
  • gardening is a great way to become active
  • mowing the lawn without riding a mower, but rather pushing it
  • golfing, cycling, swimming or any sports activity in general
  • participating in aerobics/joining organized athletic facilities
  • taking walks at lunchtime as this can be great exercise and a way to relieve the stress of the workplace

Diet is a key factor in fighting those extra pounds. Choose more fiber foods as fiber provides bulk to the diet and increases your feeling of fullness or satiety. Fiber-rich foods include beans, lentils, whole grain cereals, raspberries, dates, prunes, and most other fruits and vegetables (don't remove the skin as this is where most of the fiber is located eg. pears and apples). Also remember that an increase in fiber means an increase in the amount of water your drink (8 to 10 cups a day is good). In addition to fighting obesity, current research suggests that fiber may prevent cancer, diabetes, and heart disease.

Also, limit your consumption of foods that have a lot of fat and added sugars such as soda pops, potato chips, cookies, cakes, and fast-foods. Now before you get upset, this doesn't mean you have to stay away from these foods forever. Limit them to special occasions or snacks that you may consume infrequently. If you are one of those people that absolutely needs a sweet taste in their mouth after dinner, then just have a small bite of chocolate or a spoonful of ice cream to satisfy your urge. Don't forget that low-fat or low-calorie doesn't mean eat the whole box. Plus, be careful of the portions that are being served in restaurants. Some personal sized pizzas are large enough for two people. Enjoy the foods, but remember that moderation is a step in the right direction. Finally, whenever you eat, take your time and eat slowly. It takes about 20 minutes for your brain to realize that your stomach is full, so eating rapidly usually causes you to overeat.


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