It’s dangerous. It’s unhealthy. It’s an epidemic. And it’s (almost) completely within our control.
We’re talking about obesity, of course: a condition in which a person has too much body fat for his or her height. Notably, this is different from being merely overweight, in which the excess weight can come from bone density, muscle and even water weight. Instead, obesity is a condition caused by consuming too many calories for one’s calorie expenditure – and its rates have been climbing for many years in the United States and abroad.
Adult obesity in the U.S. has largely remained stable over the past few years, with rates decreasing in only four states, and topping 30% in 25 states. In Europe, the U.K. is the most obese country, with an adult obesity rate of 27%. According to reports, this rate has increased by 92% since the 1990s, leading one to wonder: why are obesity rates around the world climbing, and when will they ever decrease?
There are many factors that contribute to a country’s obesity rate – and quick fixes like gastric bypass surgery and tummy tucks (see the website of Dr. Ellis Choy for examples) aren’t always the answer. In this article, we’ll be looking at some of the most important ones to determine whether the rates of obesity are likely to change anytime soon, and what we can do to help.
Unfortunately, one of the most prominent causes of adult obesity is unhealthy behaviors like eating too much and exercising too little. When adults consume more calories than they expend on a regular basis, the body’s energy balance is upset, causing fat gain and other unpleasant symptoms.
Just as important as the number of calories we eat, however, is what those calories are made of. Someone whose calories primarily come from fruit and vegetables is unlikely to be obese, whereas someone who eats mostly fast food and sweets will probably gain weight and feel the effects of malaise that come with poor nutrition.
Where a person lives and what their economic circumstances are can greatly affect their risk for obesity. In communities that don’t have programs in place to encourage healthy activity and excellent nutrition, parents and children can have difficulty making the positive choices that put them on the path toward a healthy weight.
How affordable healthy food options are, school and workplace opportunities and policies, peer support systems and attitudes and marketing and promotion can all impact a person’s ability to make healthy choices. That’s why we see people make better choices as a result of national and local programming to support healthy living – and why these programs are on the rise.
Family and Culture
As much as we love our family’s traditional holiday meals, most of us know that if we ate those foods all the time, we wouldn’t feel or look the way we want. But in some cultures, the typical diet is loaded with fat, sodium and sugar, and cultural celebrations may hinder a person’s efforts to slim down and get fit.
However, we also know that most of us tend to resemble our immediate family members, and learn our eating habits from those very same people – meaning obesity tends to run in families. The good news? Your genetics and learned habits are not the be-all, end-all of your body type, meaning it is possible to build healthy habits and lose weight despite your family legacy.
The adult obesity epidemic shows no signs of ending anytime soon – but by understanding the factors that put a person at risk for obesity, we can understand how to make targeted changes in our people, cultures and communities to become a healthier nation.