Obesity: a major killer

Obesity has been found to shorten life span. It is a major non-communicable medical disease or condition that increases the risk of heart diseases, diabetes mellitus, arthritis, asthma, infertility, polycystic ovarian disease, high blood cholesterol, dementia and certain types of cancers. It is highly preventable. According to World Health Organisation, obesity is an epidemic but the prevalence varies from one Country to another.

The fight with fat
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How do you define obesity? Do you think obesity is defined only by BMI or also by waist hip ratio? Is the definition different for men and women?
Obesity is defined as excess body fat accumulation that is caused by excessive consumption of calories more than is required by the body. The excess calories is then stored in the body as fat. This definition is based on height and weight of the individual. Generally obese people (those suffering from obesity) have a body mass index (BMI) of over 30. The BMI is a measurement observed by dividing a person’s body weight by the square of the person’s height. Normal weight is a BMI in the range of 18.5-24.9. Any BMI that is less than 18.5 is underweight while overweight is a range of 25 – 29.9. Some authorities define obesity based on waist to hip ratio. A waist to hip ratio greater than 0.9 in men and in women 0.8 is regarded as obesity but specifically truncal obesity. This is the type of obesity that is major risk for cardiovascular disease.

Food is a major factor to consider in obesity
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Obesity is caused by a combination of factors but crucial to it is excessive food ingestion and decreased or lack of physical activity. Genetic susceptibility also play a huge role in combination with the aforementioned while others have been listed as it coexisting with mental disorders, endocrine disorders and use of certain medications. Some people will tell you ‘but I don’t eat much why am I so fat?’ What is your activity level? It obviously means that your lifestyle tilts more towards being sedentary and the energy expended is way lesser than that consumed. Authorities state that the major source of these excess calories is sweetened beverages and potato chips. There is a high association between obesity and sweetened beverages like soft drinks, processed fruit juices, vitamin water drinks and energy drinks. In modern nations worldwide including Africa, there is a huge dependence on fast foods, processed meals and highly packed energy meals which promotes obesity. Most work are now tending towards sedentary and modernization also promotes lack of physical activity. Even children and young persons’ are not left out as play and leisure time is now mostly sedentary. Media exposure is high for both children and adults thereby leading to increased lack of physical activity.
Obesity is not regarded as a mental illness but some mental illnesses coexist with obesity. Examples include some eating disorders like binge eating and can coexist with depression.
Different persons maybe exposed to the same environment may have different propensities for obesity due to their genes. Persons born to both obese people may have a higher risk than those who are born to normal weight individuals. Obesity tends to run in families. The risk may then be interpreted by the environmental factors of exposure. Obesity has been found to occur in certain several conditions related to inheritance pattern such as Prader-Willi Syndrome.
Some endocrine disorders like Cushing’s syndrome can also cause obesity. Certain pharmaceutical drugs like phenytoin, antipsychotic drugs and insulin.

Treatment modalities are numerous but chiefly consists of physical exercises and dieting. Dieting alone may produce weight loss but maintaing this weight loss requires including an exercise plan. A low carbohydrate and low fat diet is best for long term plans of weight loss along with lifestyle modifications. Example of such lifestyle modifications includes elimination of sweetened drinks, limited snacking and increase in physical activity. A person who is obese will need to get 150 to 300 minutes of moderate intensity activity such as brisk walking and swimming a week to prevent weight gain. There are certain drugs that studies have shown can help weight loss but certain side effects have been associated with their use and concerns have been raised about their toxicity to certain organs of the body. Surgery has been described as the most effective treatment.

Whatever method is chosen, sticking to a plan consistently is vital. The focus should be a gradual weight loss and healthy steps to maintain weight loss.