Obesity is one of the most common health issues today. In fact, it is now an epidemic in the US and prevalence continue to rise in other countries as well. And since obesity epidemic smoldered and grew slowly year after year, it’s become more difficult to control because its causes were already intertwined into social and environmental factors.
While many techniques used to treat obesity are successful, prevention should start gaining traction! Obesity is preventable if real strides are realized and positive changes are made in health and lifestyle. In this article, we’ll discuss the must-know information about obesity and the things we can do to prevent it.
What is Obesity?
It is estimated that more than 93 million adults and nearly 14 million children and teens in the US are clinically obese (1, 2). Defined as having a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or above, this puts people at a greater risk for chronic conditions like heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and some type of cancer (3).
What Are the Common Causes of Obesity?
Eating more calories than you burn daily may cause obesity in the long run. Common specific causes include:
- Eating foods high in calories and fats
- Sedentary lifestyle
- Lack of sleep, which causes hormonal changes that make you feel hungry and crave for high-calorie foods
- Genetic factors, which greatly affects how your body stores fat and process food into energy
- Aging, which brings less muscle mass and a slower metabolic rate
- Pregnancy. Weight of the growing baby and extra fluid make women gain more weight, especially in the final months of pregnancy (4).
Some medical conditions may also cause you to gain weight:
- Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS): Patients with PCOS have high androgen levels, which triggers weight gain, specifically in the abdominal area (5).
- Cushing Syndrome: There are excessively high amounts of cortisol in the body, which results in redistribution of fat, especially in the face, chest, and stomach (6).
- Prader-Willi Syndrome: A condition that features food craving and weight gain, which typically starts at a young age of 2 (7).
- Hypothyroidism: A lack of thyroid hormone may affect metabolism. Studies have linked low thyroid hormone levels with low basal metabolic rate (BMR) (8).
- Osteoarthritis: Pain may cause inactivity.
Kids become overweight or obese for several reasons. The most common causes include genetics, inactive lifestyle, and unhealthy eating behaviors. Only in rare circumstances is obesity caused by a medical problem like hormonal imbalance.
Who Are At Risk?
As mentioned earlier, a mixture of genetic, environmental, social, and psychological factors can increase one’s risk of obesity. Your home, school, or community can all influence the food you eat and the activities you do.
Depression may also cause weight gain because people turn to food for comfort. Some anti-depressants, steroids, and birth control pills may also cause you to round out. People who just stopped smoking should focus on diet and exercise to avoid weight gain.
How to Diagnose Obesity?
Aside from having a BMI of 30 more, which is a rough estimation of an individual’s weight in relation to his or her height, there are several other accurate measures of body fat and body fat distribution that can be used to diagnose obesity. Waist to hip comparisons, skinfold thickness, and imaging modalities such as ultrasound, MRI, and CT scans are helpful.
Some doctors may also request for additional tests which may include cholesterol and blood glucose levels, liver function tests, thyroid tests, diabetes screen, and ECG, to help confirm the diagnosis of obesity and determine other related health risks.
Treatment Options for Obesity
If you aren’t successful in losing weight on your own, you may opt to seek medical help. Your doctor may suggest working with a therapist and a dietitian to help you make lifestyle changes and slim down. In severe cases, they may suggest the use of weight-loss drugs or even surgery.
1. Lifestyle Modification
Your healthcare team will help you pick better food choices and develop a healthy, sustainable diet plan. There will also be an exercise program to help increase your daily activity to at least 300 minutes per week. This will help improve your metabolism, strength, and endurance.
2. Medical Weight Drugs
Your physician may also prescribe weight loss drug as an adjunct to healthy eating and exercise. These drugs, which work either by preventing fat absorption or suppressing appetite, are only given if other weight loss techniques haven’t worked and if you have other health-related issues.
3. Weight Loss Surgery
More commonly known as bariatric surgery, this treatment works by limiting the amount of food that you can comfortably take, preventing absorption of food and calories, or both. This isn’t a quick fix though, as there are risks involved. This is usually recommended for patients with a BMI of 40 or more. Patients must lose weight before the surgery. Counseling is also required to ensure that the patient is emotionally prepared for the procedure and the lifestyle and behavioral changes that it will require.
There are several kinds of surgery for weight loss. Gastric bypass and laparoscopic adjustable gastric banding (LAGB) are the most common. In a gastric bypass, a small pouch will be created at the top of your stomach to directly connect it to the small intestine. Foods and drinks will bypass most of the stomach. LAGB, on the other hand, separates the stomach into 2 pouches using a band. Removal of stomach parts is also possible through a gastric sleeve or biliopancreatic diversion with duodenal switch.
Can You Prevent Obesity? How?
Yes, you can! Most of the tips are the same for losing or maintaining a healthy weight. The bottom line is that making good lifestyle choices, which include healthy eating and exercise, can help prevent obesity. See the lists for adults below:
1. Eat Healthy or Good Fats
Many people are believing the low-fat diet of the 90s, but there are healthy or “good” fats that you can eat! One study published in the Nutrition Journal found that intake of dietary fats like monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, can help lower cholesterol levels and reduce your risk of obesity, heart disease, and stroke (9).
2. Avoid Sugary and Processed Foods
Consumption of processed foods may increase your risk of obesity as they contain high amounts of fat, salt, and sugar (10). Sugar may increase your desire for sweet-tasting foods and encourage overeating (11).
3. Eat More Fruits and Vegetables
Take at least 5-9 servings of fruits and vegetables per day. They have fewer calories and fat, but are filling! The use of fruits and vegetables instead of higher-calorie ingredients for your dishes is a healthy choice! The water and fiber in these fruits and vegetables will add volume to your meals. You’ll eat the same amount of food with fewer calories (12).
4. Consume More Dietary Fiber
Studies show that dietary fiber plays an important role in weight loss and maintenance. One trial revealed that fiber complex supplements can people lose 5% of their body weight if taken 3 times daily for a course of at least 12 weeks (13).
5. Choose Low-Glycemic Index Foods
The Glycemic Index (GI) measures how fast a food item can raise your blood sugar level. Keeping your blood glucose levels steady can help maintain a healthy weight.
6. Ask Help from Your Friends and Family
Social support is not only for kids and teens. It is also very important for adults to feel cared for too. Ask your friends or family to cook healthy meals or go on walks to help build a healthy lifestyle.
7. Do Regular Exercise and Weight Training
Exercising regularly is very important for losing or maintaining weight. It is highly recommended to do at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercises or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic training weekly (14). Weight training is also important. Aside from your weekly aerobic regimen, perform weight training involving all your major muscles at least twice weekly (15).
Stress can affect your body and mind greatly. One study suggests that stress may cause changes in eating patterns, craving for more high-calorie foods (16). During long periods of stress, the adrenal glands release cortisol, which increases appetite (17).
9. Create A Food Budget and Prepare Your Own Meal
It is simpler to shop for healthy foods when you’ve got a plan. Creating a budget and list for your groceries can help avoid temptations for unhealthy food cravings. Preparing your own meals is also healthier.
How to Prevent Obesity in Kids
Obesity prevention can start at a young age too! Help your youngsters keep a healthy weight without focusing on the scale! See the tips below:
An analysis of more than 20 studies found that breastfeeding can help reduce a child’s risk for obesity (18).
2. Feed Kids the Right Portion Sizes
Toddlers don’t need huge amounts of food. For kids age 1-3, every inch of height should be equal to only 40 calories of food (19).
3. Teach Them to Like Healthy Foods
Encourage your kid to try plenty of fruits and vegetables from an early age. This will more likely help them make better food choices as they grow older.
4. Eat Healthy Foods as a Family
Switching to a healthy diet as a family allows kids to experience healthy eating early in life. This will make it simpler for them to continue following and keeping good eating patterns.
5. Teach Them To Eat Slowly and Only When Hungry
Overeating happens when you eat even if you’re not hungry. This excess fuel is stored as body fat and may cause obesity. Teach your kid to eat only when he or she feels hungry and to chew slowly for better digestion.
6. Do Not Keep Unhealthy Foods At Home
If you keep unhealthy foods at home, your kid may be more likely to eat them. Stock your fridge and pantry with healthy foods only! Less-healthy snacks should only be brought for a rare treat.
7. Do Fun and Exciting Physical Activity
Kids and teens should get at least an hour of physical activity daily (20). Make it fun by doing sports, games, and other outdoor plays!
8. Limit Screen Time
More time spent watching TV and playing computer games means less time for plays and sleep. Exercise and sleep are important in keeping a healthy weight. Therefore, it is important to limit your child’s time for TV and computer.
9. Get Enough Sleep
Research says that both kids and adults who do not get enough rest and sleep may end up gaining weight (21).
10. Know What Your Child Eats Outside Your Home
You cannot always monitor what your child eats in school or with friends. They’ve got several chances to munch on unhealthy foods outside your home. Asking questions can help you make a better plan in the future.
Keeping a healthy weight is important for optimum health. Taking the necessary precautions and steps to reduce your risk for obesity is a good start. Even small changes like eating more vegetables and hitting the gym a few times weekly can make a huge difference.
If you are interested in a more personalized approach, a doctor and a dietitian can provide you with tools and advice to get started.