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Worldwide Obesity Epidemic
Over the last decade, obesity has become one of the most prevalent medical conditions, not only in the Western regions of society but also everywhere else in the world. While it is an underrated condition that is taken lightly in many parts of the globe, it is a condition that can affect any one of us severely if we do not take enough care of our bodies. Obesity is a complex medical condition primarily characterized by excessive body fat. It can play a significant and devastating role in an individual's physical and mental health. This is because obesity is not simply a cosmetic concern. It can play a massive role in a well-functioning individual's overall well-being, metabolic, and other governing factors.
The concerns were growing all across the globe as children as young as middle schoolers were reporting a high body weight and BMI leading them to be more prone to obesity. Several factors can lead to the development of this condition, and therefore, understanding and dealing with its causes and effects would be one of the first steps in the proper management and maintenance of health. The reason why it is called a complex condition is that just as there is no one reason or one major contributing factor to why obesity develops, it is also not that simple to lose the weight that one may have gained. The complexity of the condition extends to gaining, losing, and maintaining weight.
Table of Contents
When was obesity declared an epidemic?
The obesity epidemic in Western and Westernizing countries has more than doubled in the last 10 years. This shows an alarming rate at which this is growing. The World Health Organization (WHO) declared obesity a major problem of public health and a global epidemic in 1997. Until recently, this was a condition that was only said to be associated with people from high socio-economic strata. This claim was supported by the statistics in the early 20th century wherein most people who reported problems of obesity were primarily from the developed world in the United States and Europe. However, more recent data in the last decade has shown the rate of incidence also spreading towards developing countries like Mexico, China, Thailand, etc. After the formal recognition of obesity as an epidemic in 1997, several more studies were conducted to understand the underlying nature and causes of this condition to be able to prevent it in the early stages.
Countries are now scrambling to come up with proper healthcare plans to be able to deal with this epidemic so that the consequences are not dire in the long run.
What caused the obesity epidemic?
The epidemiology of obesity revealed multiple causes that revolve around why obesity became an epidemic. However, it is not a condition that spreads through a single virus and bacteria for which a vaccine can be made. This condition has causal factors that are much more complicated than that, and the responsibility of prevention would lie on the individual. Here are some of the common causes of obesity that can play a role in its increased prevalence:
- Behavior – In recent years, there has been a chronic shift in consumption patterns within our societies. Consuming more energy or calories than one expends in a day has become a norm for many. This leads to a gradual but persistent increase in overall body weight. This is not an individual problem. It is not simply about the fact that a person who weighs more should eat less but other factors in the environment also play a significant role in the behavioral patterns that a person exhibits.
- Environment – The way our neighborhoods are built can greatly impact our lives. The way our lives are structured around the society we live in is important. Since human survival is based on obtaining enough food, we look for ways to get food in the easiest and most accessible ways. Since work and life have become more or less sedentary, we find it difficult to remain active in an environment that is determined to make life more comfortable. Being surrounded by online food delivery apps, fast food restaurants, vending machines, coffee shops, etc. has also not helped the cause
- Genetics – Genes can highly influence the susceptibility to becoming obese. However, since genes may take generations to evolve, and obesity is just 40-50 years old, it may not be a direct cause of the development and growth of the obesity epidemic. However, the effects of genetic and hereditary factors cannot be discounted in the role that they play in the predisposition of a person towards obesity.
Even though this topic has gained a lot of traction in recent years, especially after understanding the devastating effects that it can cause, there has been no significant and profound progress in fighting obesity even in today’s times. According to experts, it also seems that the graph of obesity will increase before it gets better.
Studies in India conducted in 2019 have also revealed that, globally, more than 1.9 billion adults are over their normal weight and 650 million people can be categorized as obese. Approximately 2.8 million deaths are being reported due to obesity. Specifically, in India, approximately 135 million people are affected by this condition. We also have a higher susceptibility towards abdominal obesity just like other South Asian countries. The higher rate of obesity also adds more stress to the government. Studies in India have also shown that the prevalence of obesity was much more in women as compared to men.
What are the effects of the obesity epidemic?
Unfortunately, obesity does not always come alone. It is also associated with several other complications that may eventually lead to fatalities or other severe impairments. This is why it is important to be aware of the risk factors and deal with obesity at the early stages.
Here are some of the common issues that accompany obesity.
1. Insulin resistance and hyperinsulinemia – A reduction in sensitivity to insulin can occur as a consequence of obesity. The impact of obesity may not be dependent on genetic factors. Hyperinsulinemia (more insulin than the body requires) and insulin resistance are followed by a cascade of other metabolic changes in the body like diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular diseases, etc. Due to the defective nature of insulin signaling in the bodies of people who are obese, insulin resistance is higher.
2. Type 2 diabetes – The relative risk of developing type 2 diabetes is high with the increasing BMI. Weight gain is an important factor in the development of diabetes, this is particularly true for abdominal weight. People who had a higher ratio of visceral fat were more likely to develop type 2 diabetes.
3. Hypertension – Similarly, the risk of hypertension was also seen to be higher in people who had a higher BMI. Weight gain dramatically increased the risk of developing hypertensive stress. This hypertension associated with obesity is marked by an increase in the overall vascular volume (the amount of blood in the circulatory system). Additional complications like increased renal sodium levels, water absorption in the body, changes in the sympathetic nervous system, etc were noted.
4. Dyslipidemia – The more the weight, the higher the chances of lipid metabolism is affected. Since there are very low-density lipoprotein molecules being produced by the liver, this reduces the number of high-density lipoproteins (HDL) cholesterol levels and increases the number of small-density lipoproteins (LDL) particles. These smaller particles penetrate through the arterial wall and can eventually lead to an increase in the risk of coronary heart disease.
5. Gallbladder disease – The relationship between obesity and gallbladder disease was also seen. Being obese can increase the chances of having gall bladder disease to certain extent.
6. Cancer – Men and women who were at least 40% overweight had a 33% and 35% more chance of developing cancer than those in the average weight range. The mortality rates of colorectal and prostate cancer, in men and uterine, endometrial, ovarian, gallbladder, and breast cancer in women were common.
The devastating consequences of the obesity epidemic are severe. Along with these, many smaller and seemingly minor consequences like poor mental health, lack of stamina, shallow breathing, high blood pressure, fatigue, sleep issues, etc are also linked to obesity. These issues can become big and can develop into even bigger problems that may then lead to the effects mentioned above.
How can we fix the obesity epidemic?
Fixing the causes and reducing the prevalence of obesity has become the top priority for all countries across the globe. The mortality rate associated with this particular problem is quite problematic and is creating havoc in the lives of many people. Macro and micro changes will be required from the state and government’s end along with individualistic changes in each family and person. This holistic and team approach is one of the best solutions to deal with the lasting effects of obesity and ensure that it does not grow into something major in the times to come. These are the lifestyle changes to manage obesity:
Food is one of the easiest ways through which a person can gain weight. Food is how carbs and fat can enter our bodies. The higher calories in the food can contribute to certain issues. These days, with the increase in the availability of processed foods, sugary beverages, and fatty and cheesy items, all at a click away, has contributed to an increase in ordering food online and eventual weight gain. Increasing your consciousness regarding food choices and ensuring that you are engaging in practices that are more helpful to you would be vital.
Add the following food options to your diet plan:
1. Minimally processed foods like – whole grains, vegetables, fruits, nuts, etc
2. More fiber and protein – lentils, pulses, fiber-rich fruits, dals, eggs, fish, etc are also very important for good health
3. Limit sugary foods, processed foods, canned goods, potatoes, rice, cookies, baked products, etc.
4. Well-balanced diet – A diet plan that includes a good amount of proteins, carbs, fiber, vitamins, minerals, and other important aspects will be key to achieving the target weight you have set for yourself.
Exercise & Activity
Physical activities may vary for different people based on their personal characteristics. The goals regarding weight management and losing weight can differ. Therefore, setting your targets with the help of a professional can be the way to lose weight healthily. You also need to make sure that you are not losing too much muscle and fat at once as that can lead to other problems of their own. Different types of exercises can be done to be able to lose weight:
- Aerobic exercises – Walking, dancing, Zumba, swimming, running, etc come under aerobic exercises
- Strength training – Using and lifting weights or using your body strength to lose fat and gain muscles
- Functional training – Full body cardio exercises that can help boost metabolism and burn the excess body fat
These exercises may require the guidance of a specialist, especially when you are just starting off. Knowing how much and what to do would be important instead of engaging in a workout routine without having proper goals. You can start slow and work your way up as you gain more stamina and strength to work out
Medications that help you deal with the effects of obesity might work in different ways. Some medications may help you feel less hungry and will keep you full for a long time. There can be other medications that will make it harder for your body to absorb the fat from the foods that you consume. Taking prescription meds for weight management and weight loss should only be done after a consultation with your doctor. This is because several of these medications can have effects on the body that may not be very helpful for all. Usually, people with a BMI of 30 or more or a BMI of 27 or more but with comorbidities like high blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes are required to take medications for weight loss. These medications are currently only available for adults and might not be safe for kids to consume. Medications are often recommended as a catalyst along with diet and exercise plans for weight loss.
Weight loss surgery is also another proven method to deal with obesity. Technological changes and advanced medical practices have made it easier for doctors and medical professionals to come up with techniques of surgery that may be helpful with obesity. Today, the availability of multiple options exist that patients can choose from based on their level of comfort and choice of treatment. Some of the commonly conducted surgical procedures to deal with the effects of obesity include:
- Intragastric balloon
- Gastric banding
- Sleeve gastrectomy
- Mini Gastric bypass
- Cosmetic procedures like liposuction and tummy tuck
These bariatric surgeries have seen another major advantage in the form of laparoscopy. These are minimally invasive procedures that see a successful surgery being performed only through small incisions. The minimal level of discomfort associated with these procedures and the rapid recovery process are added advantages to overall weight loss. Naturally, these surgeries may not be necessary for everyone, and doctors may recommend them only in severe cases where other options may not be highly effective.
The epidemiology of obesity showed the effects that this condition can affect people of all ages, irrespective of where they live. Obesity is an epidemic that is associated with consequences that are dire and fatal. The increase in the prevalence of obesity in the last few decades has only raised alarms as the effects and negative consequences associated with the same have also doubled. The statistics and incidents have opened the eyes of the people as researchers are slowly expecting a paradigm shift towards better health and more conscious living. Being aware of the causes of obesity and personal risk factors would be game changers in the aspect of reducing the same. Along with this, ensuring that you are engaging in a healthy diet plan under the guidance of a medical professional if needed, exercising regularly, taking your medications if they have been prescribed, etc, would be leaving no stones left to turn in your fight against this epidemic.
Who suffers from obesity?
Obesity can affect anyone in the world, however, certain genetic factors do play a role in the prevalence of this condition. It is also said that more than 1 in 3 men and 1 in 4 women are overweight. About 9.2% have severe obesity all around the world and these statistics are increasing every day with the increased availability of food and the ease of access. A more sedentary lifestyle, lack of exercise or outdoor games, higher screen time, etc has increased the incidence of obesity even among kids.
What are the 5 factors that influence obesity?
Obesity, being complex, can be influenced by many different factors. Food and activity, environment, genetic factors, health conditions and medications, stress, and other emotional factors can play a role in the development, sustenance, and maintenance of obesity. Controlling this condition would require you to keep a check on all fronts holistically. These factors may not always be present in every individual however, their existence can increase the threat of the development of obesity
What is the biggest risk of obesity?
The health effects of obesity are severe. It can not only lead to problems with physical health, but it can also play a major role in determining the overall mental well-being of a person. One of the biggest risks of obesity would be the high death rate associated with it. This is because it can lead to massive stress on the heart with high blood pressure, coronary heart disease, high LDL cholesterol, etc. Cancer, death, insulin resistance, hyperinsulinemia, type 2 diabetes, and gallbladder issues are all risks of obesity.
How do we prevent obesity?
Obesity can be prevented if one understands the causes and the risk factors associated with the condition. An overall approach to deal with the same would be super important for sustainable changes – healthier foods and beverages, limiting screen time, exercising regularly, better stress management, etc can play a role in the prevention of this condition. The prevention of obesity will be much better than having to manage the condition once it exists.
This website's content is provided only for educational reasons and is not meant to be a replacement for professional medical advice. Due to individual differences, the reader should contact their physician to decide whether the material is applicable to their case.