Obesity has reached epidemic proportions and is now the leading cause of preventable death in the United States, according to a study by Cleveland Clinic, beating out tobacco use, diabetes and high blood pressure. More than 2.8 million people die every year as the result of being overweight or having obesity, according to statistics presented by the World Health Organization.
It wasn’t always this way. In 1990, fewer than 15 percent of people in the U.S. had obesity. By 2018, about 39.8 percent of the population had obesity. So how did we become overwhelmed by obesity and what are we doing to beat this epidemic? The answer is as complicated as obesity itself.
In general, people use the terms “overweight” and “obesity” to describe having too much body fat. Doctors and medical professionals use stricter definitions. Medical professionals typically use body mass index (BMI) to describe weight status. BMI uses a simple height-to-weight calculation of BMI = kg/m2, where kg is the individual’s weight in kilograms and m2 is the person’s height in meters squared. Online BMI calculators make it easier to determine BMI.
Health care professionals typically consider a healthy BMI for men and women as being between 18.5 and 24.9. Most consider a BMI between 25 and 29.9 as overweight and a BMI over 30 as obese.
Causes of Obesity
In general, one pound of fat equals about 3,500 calories. This means you must consume 3,500 more calories than you burn to gain a pound of fat. Conversely, you have to burn 3,500 more calories than you consume to lose a pound of fat. This can happen over the course of a few days. Consume an extra 500 calories daily for seven days and you will gain about one pound at the end of a week.
At first glance, the cause of obesity seems simple — consume more calories than you burn through physical activity and you will gain weight; do this long enough and you will face obesity. But the underlying causes of obesity are much more complex than simply consuming more calories than you burn. There are a number of other factors that contribute to weight gain and obesity.
Obesity can “run in families,” for example. Research shows that a person with a family history of obesity is two to eight times more likely to develop obesity compared with someone with no such family history.
Hormones can also lead to weight gain and obesity. For example, Ghrelin is the hormone that stimulates hunger while Leptin, often referred to as the “starvation hormone” or “satiety hormone”, is released once you are satiated. Hormones are chemical messengers that tell one part of the body what is going on in another part.
The body’s fat cells produce leptin, which travels to the brain where it should tell the brain to stop eating. Sometimes the brain does not respond to leptin, so the person continues to feel hungry even after a satisfying meal. Doctors refer to this as leptin resistance and recognize leptin resistance as a leading cause of obesity. The more fat the cells carry, the more leptin they produce; people with obesity, then, have higher levels of leptin.
The American diet is also a main factor in the growing obesity epidemic. An abundance of heavily processed, calorie-rich and nutrient-poor foods are available everywhere and are often less expensive and convenient than low-calorie foods. Many of these sugar-sweetened, high-fat junk foods stimulate the reward centers in the brain, which can cause food addictions in certain people. This diet also promotes insulin resistance, which is a condition in which body cells cannot use the insulin that helps them absorb energy-providing sugar from the blood.
Fighting the Deadly Obesity Epidemic
The World Health Organization (WHO), national and local leaders, and medical professionals are working hard to curb the obesity epidemic to save and improve lives. WHO provides many publications and action plans that help community leaders address obesity.
Community leaders can help contain the obesity epidemic by improving access to nutritious food. Schools can offer nutrition classes and opportunities to exercise. In addition to providing nutritious meals, parents can encourage physical activity and discourage sedentary activities, such as watching television or playing on the computer. Parents can also set a good example.
Medical professionals are also developing ways to help patients with obesity lose weight and keep it off. Surgeons now perform a number of weight-loss surgeries, also known as bariatric surgery, to help patients with obesity lose weight quickly and safely. In fact, weight loss surgeons now perform about 228,000 bariatric procedures each year, according to the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery.
Bariatric surgery can help people with obesity lose weight by reducing the amount of food they can eat in a sitting, eliminating the sensation of hunger and decreasing the amount of nutrients the individual’s body absorbs from food. Procedures, such as sleeve gastrectomy and gastric bypass, help patients lose more weight than they could with diet and exercise alone. Weight-loss surgery also helps patients keep the weight off, even years after the bariatric procedure. The weight-loss professionals at BMI of Texas perform a variety of bariatric procedures that help patients lose weight and keep it off.
The only way to fight the deadly obesity epidemic is to help every individual lose weight and keep it off.