Nutrition and Disease: Obesity

Obesity is a major problem and is a risk factor for several other problems such as cardiovascular diseases, diabetics, hypertension, osteoarthritis, and other chronic conditions. It is defined as having excessive amounts of body fat. In the United States alone 33 percent of adults and 20 percent of children are categorized as obese and the occurrence of obesity persists to augment in the United States and other parts of the world for both children and adults. The number of adults who are classified as extremely obese (body mass index [BMI] > 40 kg/m2) tallies in the millions. The National Institutes of Health’s National Obesity Education Initiative has proposed a classification for disease risk relative to normal weight and waist circumference. These standards have been supported by the World Health Organization. In adults, pre-obesity or overweight is defined as a BMI between 25 and 29.9 kg/m2, and obesity is defined as BMI greater than or equal to 30 kg/m2. From 1960 to 1980, the prevalence of obesity among adults in the United States was relatively stable; however, recent findings from NHANES showed that 3 of 10 US adults are obese (Crespo and Arbesman).

One of the main causes for obesity is identified as over-eating especially fast food or junk food. For instance, if a person overeats about energy needs, the extra calories tend to turn into fat and get stored in the body. Simultaneously, as energy expenditure has dropped considerably in the present generation, environmental factors have also combined to make it easier and easier for people to eat more calories than they need. Energy-dense foods, which are highly calorific without being correspondingly filling, are becoming increasingly available in the market and are gaining popularity (House of Commons Health Committee). In addition to its toll on health, obesity also extensively impacts healthcare costs. The World Bank has estimated the cost of obesity at 12 percent of the nation’s healthcare budget. It is not just the individual but it is the organizations, businesses, and the government that bears the costs for obesity (Crespo and Arbesman).

Studies have provided some evidence that genetics plays a role in how prone someone is to obesity. However, the condition occurs as more calories are consumed than are expended. The excess calories are converted to fat and gradually an individual becomes obese over time. Researchers have also pointed out that obesity and obesity-related risk factors among some cultural, racial, and socioeconomic groups especially within certain geographic regions are high. For instance, some studies show that a higher percentage of African Americans, Hispanics/Latinos, Native Americans, and people of lower socioeconomic status have limited access to healthy and nutritious foods and adequate facilities for physical activity. As a result, they are much more prone (Jacobs and Lavizzo-Mourey, pp. 2-8).

Increased calorie consumption and less nutritious food is a problem linked with obesity. Many of the food we eat from fast-food restaurants such as pizzas, burgers, carbonated drinks, etc. are not meet the daily nutritional needs. Fast-food restaurants are widespread, popular, and contributing to the obesity epidemic. The traditional home-cooked meal is becoming a thing of the past as more Americans than ever are eating away from home. Today there are more two-income families, so often there is less time to prepare food at home.

The second most important reason for obesity is the lack of adequate physical activity. Technology also has played a role in declining levels of physical activity in adults and children. A century ago, farming or other forms of physical labor were much more common. Today, more adults have sedentary jobs and when the workday is over, they ride home in cars, trains, or buses. Physical activities such as walking, cycling, etc. have almost vanished from society. Besides, as children devote more and more of their free time to television, computers, and video games, they are spending less time playing sports and games and being physically active (Jacobs and Lavizzo-Mourey, pp. 2-8).

Obesity is not a result of single-factor rather there are several factors responsible for obesity. Claude Bouchard, Executive Director, Pennington Biomedical Research Center proposed several theories for this epidemic including behavioral, physical environmental, and biological approaches. Behavioral hypotheses include intake of high-calorie foods, high-fat diets, high sugar intake, low calcium intake, low protein intake, and a large amount of time spent in sedentary activities. Physical environment hypotheses relate to features of the urban environment and the potential role of environmental pollutants (e.g., organochlorines). Biological hypotheses include, among others, infant birth weight, maternal and post-natal nutrition, rise in use of high-fructose corn syrup in food formulation, low resting metabolic rates, high respiratory quotients (and low lipid oxidation rates), low leptin levels, viral infection, and genetics (MacAulay and Newsome, pp. 32 –37).

Though there are several weight management programs introduced by various companies and health care centers, the only way to reduce obesity is by educating and creating awareness among the people on how to tackle this problem. There is a need to educate the public about the health benefits of healthy dietary habits and being physically active. Schools, public and private sectors need to put in extra efforts to educate and create awareness among the public regarding the essence of healthy eating and other lifestyle changes. It is essential to regulate the access to junk foods and soft drinks in schools and other government facilities; and increase the availability of healthier foods, such as non-fat/low-fat milk, fruits and vegetables, and 100% fruit juice. Challenge policymakers, cabinet members, healthcare providers, voluntary organizations, and the food and fitness industries to mobilize efforts in response to the obesity epidemic. Population surveys indicate that 3 factors are associated with sustained, substantial weight loss: adequate physical activity (an average of 450 minutes of physical activity a week with periods of at least moderately intense activity several times per week); avoidance of calorie-dense foods that are high in fat and simple carbohydrates; and use of multiple strategies to reinforce the maintenance of the desired physical activity and nutritional patterns (Kottke et.al, pp. 92-94). Finally, it can be said that there is an urgent need for multi-level governance to control the epidemic of obesity. The educational institutions, the food industry, the health care sector, government and non-government organizations, and other agencies need to play a major role in creating awareness among the public. Nutrition is the basis for a healthy future. The sooner the individual realizes this, the better and healthy the future.

Work Cited

  1. Crespo, C.J. and Arbesman, J. Obesity in the United States, The Physician and Sportsmedicine – Vol 31 – No. 11 – 2003.
  2. House of Commons Health Committee, Obesity. (2004) Web.
  3. Jacobs, A.K. and Lavizzo-Mourey, R. A Nation at Risk: Obesity in the United States American Heart Association & American Stroke Association. pp 2-8. [2009]
  4. Kottke, T.E., Lambert A. And Hoffman, R.S. Economic and Psychological Implications of the Obesity Epidemic. (2003) The Obesity Epidemic, Mayo Clin Proc.;78: 92-94
  5. MacAulay, J. and Newsome, R. Solving the Obesity Conundrum. Food technology, Vol. 58, No. 6, 2004: 32 –37

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