Obesity – The Silent Pandemic
26 Jul 2021 | Anne Marie Fogarty
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After 2020, it’s safe to say that pretty much all of us are tired of hearing the word ‘pandemic’ being thrown about the place. However, it turns out that we may have been dealing with another pandemic for many decades now, known as obesity.
Over the years, more and more people have found their waistlines expanding, their clothes getting smaller, and their health deteriorating due to their ever-increasing weight.
Obesity levels recently peaked at an all-time high and to make matters worse, experts are concerned that this is having a negative impact on younger generations. For the first time ever, life expectancies for children born in this generation are predicted to be shorter than those of their parents. When you consider the advancements in exercise, technology, nutrition, and modern medicine, this simply should not be happening.
The obesity crisis is very much real, and here in the UK, every single year, the NHS spends a staggering £4.2 billion on obesity-related healthcare. To make matters worse, by 2050, that number is predicted to more than double to £10 billion.
But what causes obesity, how can it be avoided, and what can we do to ensure that it does not affect our children and future generations?
What is obesity?
According to the World Health Organization, obesity is a condition that is defined as an abnormally high amount of fat accumulated on the body that results in a series of health complications and risks.
Those with a body mass index (BMI) of more than 25 are classed as being overweight, whereas those with a BMI of more than 30 are classed as obese. Each year, more than 4 million people die due to obesity-related health complications.
Perhaps more worrying still is that obesity is now an issue that affects virtually all regions worldwide, rather than just wealthy and developed countries. In fact, Asia and sub-Saharan Africa are the only two regions in the world where there are not more obese individuals than underweight.
Those who are obese are at risk of all manner of health issues, with some of the most prevalent weight-related health issues including:
- Risk of heart attack
- Risk of stroke
- Type-2 diabetes
- Fatty liver disease
- Hypertension (high blood pressure)
- Cardiovascular disease
- Increased risk of some types of cancer
What causes obesity?
If you wanted to be black and white about things, the two leading causes of obesity are overeating and a lack of exercise. Of course, things are rarely ever that black and white in the real world, so let’s look in more detail at some of the most common causes of obesity.
The most obvious cause of obesity is, of course, overeating.
Each person requires a specific number of calories each day for their bodies to maintain themselves in their current state. If you go above this number of calories, the body instead breaks them down and converts them into body fat to be used as a source of energy for a later date.
The more calories above maintenance you consume, the more fat your body will store and the heavier you will become.
Calories are found in all foods, and while it is possible to become obese from excess calories from healthy and nutritious food, the main culprit when it comes to obesity is junk food.
Junk food is loaded full of trans fats, salt, sugar, calories, and various other ingredients that do the body no good. Because junk food is so high in unhealthy fats, it is also high in calories, which means that the more you eat, the more weight you will gain.
A lack of exercise
The fact that people are working sedentary jobs and are leading less active lifestyles is also a primary cause of obesity.
When we exercise, we burn calories; if we don’t exercise, we burn far fewer calories, which means that we’ll gain weight easier and find it much tougher to lose weight.
Children are also becoming less active as they tend to spend more time indoors playing online games instead of being physically active and playing sports and various other games those past generations used to participate in.
Contrary to popular belief, there are certain medical conditions out there that can contribute to obesity. For example, underactive thyroid glands (hypothyroidism) can suppress the metabolism, so you burn fewer calories. This means that you will gain weight easier and find it harder to lose weight.
Obesity Treatment and Prevention
Despite obesity costing the NHS more than £4 billion each year, the good news is that there are a number of simple and effective ways in which you can treat obesity yourself.
A few tried and tested treatments and preventative measures for obesity include the following:
- Consume a balanced calorie-controlled diet
- Speak to your GP
- Join a weight loss class
- Speak to a nutritionist
- Exercise more and aim for 2.5 – 3 hours of exercise per week
- Find physical activities that you enjoy doing
- Try to avoid triggers and situations where you may be tempted to overeat
- Try to find healthy and balanced meals that you enjoy eating
- Allow yourself a treat every once in a while
How to tackle childhood obesity
As previously mentioned, childhood obesity is giving experts real cause for concern. With children in this generation weighing more than prior generations, something needs to be done sooner rather than later.
A few potential strategies for tackling childhood obesity include:
- Make family meals a priority
- Get active with your kids
- Encourage your children to participate in sports and physically active games
- Limit the amount of screen time they are permitted
- Try to limit sugary beverages
- Feed them wholesome and nutritious meals
- Limit junk food and sugar “treats.”
- Lead by example
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help from professionals
While obesity is at an all-time concerning high, we must adopt the necessary changes to our lifestyle now so that future generations stand a chance.
It is not easy with advertising fast food, sweet treats, and convenience foods all around us, but even small steps every day make a difference.
Let’s eat healthier and move more – for our children and us!