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Understanding Obesity

Diabetes, Men's Health, Women's Health | June 2, 2018 | Author: Naturopath

men, diabetes, women's health, cardiovascular, obesity

Understanding Obesity

The incidence of obesity worldwide has nearly tripled between 1975 and 2016. It is estimated that more than 1.9 billion adults are overweight, and of these over 650 million are obese. The World Health Organization (WHO) has called the situation an ‘epidemic’.

Prevalence and cost of obesity in Australia

In Australia, figures from 2014–15 show that approximately 11.2 million adults are classified as overweight or obese. This accounts for 63% of Australian adults, of which 28% fall into the obese category. The Australian Bureau of Statistics estimates that overweight and obesity in 2008 cost the economy around $58 billion. This includes health system costs, and loss of productivity costs and carers' costs.

What is the difference between overweight and obesity?

What is the difference between overweight and obesity?Both overweight and obesity are defined as “abnormal or excessive fat accumulation that may impair health” (WHO 2017). Being obese means having a Body Mass Index (BMI)* of equal to or over 30, and overweight is defined as having a BMI of equal to or over 25.

*BMI is a common measure of underweight, overweight and obesity in adults, defined as a person’s weight (in kilograms) divided by the square of his or her height (in meters)

What causes obesity?

  • Energy imbalance. In other words, eating too much and moving too little. It is a result of consuming a high-calorie (kilojoules), high-fat, high-sugar, and low-fibre diet, and at the same time leading a sedentary lifestyle.
     
  • Medical conditions. Underlying medical conditions can contribute to weight gain. For example:
  • Prader-Willi Syndrome – a rare genetic syndrome that affects growth and development, and among other symptoms also causes excessive hunger that leads to chronic overeating and obesity. 
  • Underactive thyroid (Hypothyroidism) - low levels of thyroid hormones are associated with decreased metabolism and significant changes in body weight.
  • Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) – a common hormonal disorder in women of reproductive age characterised by infrequent or prolonged menstrual periods and excess levels male hormones, which may trigger weight gain.
  • Cushing’s Syndrome – this uncommon condition is caused by high levels of the stress hormone cortisol in the body and is associated with weight gain, particularly around the abdomen.
  • Medications. Weight gain can be a side effect of some prescription drugs, such as:
  • Antipsychotic drugs
  • Antidepressants and mood stabilisers
  • Medications for epilepsy
  • Obesity genes. Studies of obese population have found several genes that predispose individuals to obesity. The first obesity gene to be discovered is the FTO gene, which is thought to increase the risk of obesity by subtly changing food intake and food preference.
  • Prenatal and early life influences. You are what your mother ate. The environmental conditions experienced in the womb may predispose you to obesity later in life. Children of women who smoke, develop diabetes, or gain excessive weight during pregnancy are at increased risk of developing obesity themselves.

What causes obesity?Malnutrition during pregnancy may also ‘program’ the offspring to obesity.
Studies of individuals born during and after the period known as the Dutch Famine during the German occupation of 1944–1945 found that those who were exposed to nutritional deprivation in the womb during the first half of pregnancy had a higher prevalence of obesity later in life.  

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  • Emotional factors. Stress, negative emotions, depression and boredom can trigger ‘emotional eating’. Additionally, poor sleep may affect your appetite and cause you to overeat.

Health consequences of obesity

Obesity is a major risk factor for an extensive list of diseases such as:

Managing obesity

Obesity is a complex issue that involves diet, lifestyle, biology, environment, and psychology. Although there is no one simple solution, there are some strategies you can apply to lose weight:

Eating a healthy diet. There is no such thing as ‘one diet fits all’. There are many ways to lose weight and what works for one might not work for another. A qualified nutritionist/dietitian can tailor a healthy personalised weight loss diet plan that targets your goals, your food preferences and lifestyle.

Managing obesityRegular physical activity. Exercise is an integral part of a weight loss program and has many health benefits beyond weight loss. Choose a physical activity that you enjoy and set realistic goals. An accredited exercise physiologist can design a program based on your age and gender, abilities, preferences and environment.

Behavioural change. Identifying behaviours, circumstances and triggers that contribute to overeating may help you gain control and develop new ways of changing old patterns and re-establishing your relationship with food. You may require a counsellor to help you with this process.

Social support. Researchers say that group weight loss programs are more effective in losing weight and keeping it off, as they provide support and a way share diet tips. Ways to get support include enlisting a friend or a family member in the weight loss program; participating in a commercial weight loss program that involves group meetings, or joining an online weight loss community.

Medication. Prescription medications for the treatment of obesity are no magic bullet solution and do not replace healthy eating and physical activity. Talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits in weight loss medications.

Surgery. Weight loss surgery in Australia includes four different procedures that influence the volume of food consumed: gastric sleeve, gastric bypass, Lap-Band, and gastric balloon. Although surgery is costly and not without risk, for the morbidly obese it may be the only effective treatment.
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The bottom line

Weight loss and long-term maintenance of weight loss are challenging. It is important to set realistic and sustainable goals and expectations. Even small amounts of weight loss have many health benefits.

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References

Adamo, K. B., Ferraro, Z. M., & Brett, K. E. (2012). Can We Modify the Intrauterine Environment to Halt the Intergenerational Cycle of Obesity? International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health9(4), 1263–1307. http://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph9041263

American Psychological Association, 2018. How social support can help you lose weight. Available at: http://www.apa.org/topics/obesity/support.aspx

Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2013. Overweight and obesity. Available at: http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Lookup/4125.0main+features3330Jan 2013

Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2017. An interactive insight into overweight and obesity in Australia. Available at: https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/overweight-obesity/interactive-insight-into-overweight-and-obesity/contents/how-many-people-are-overweight-or-obese

Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.  Prenatal and Early Life Influences - Obesity Prevention Source. Available at: https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/obesity-prevention-source/obesity-causes/prenatal-postnatal-obesity/

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Overweight and Obesity. Available at: https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/overweight-and-obesity

National Health and Medical Research Council, 2015. Obesity and Overweight. Available at: https://www.nhmrc.gov.au/health-topics/obesity-and-overweight  

Rogers, I., 2003. The influence of birthweight and intrauterine environment on adiposity and fat distribution in later life. International Journal of Obesity, 27(7), pp.755–777. Available at: http://www.nature.com/articles/0802316

Schulz, L.C., 2010. The Dutch Hunger Winter and the developmental origins of health and disease. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 107(39), pp.16757–8. Available at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20855592

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Overweight, 2017. Overweight & Obesity.  Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/obesity/index.html

World Health Organization, 2017. Obesity and overweight. Available at: http://www.who.int/en/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/obesity-and-overweight

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