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How to Prevent Obesity and Treat It in 2021

Obesity has grown from being seen as a personal health problem to becoming a global epidemic. Even though we have a pretty good idea how to prevent obesity, actually implementing the necessary steps in practice is anything but easy. 

For most people, working in today’s world means more screen time and less physical activity. Combine this with processed and sugary foods, and the body fails to burn as many calories as is required. Thus, it’s no surprise that obesity has slowly become a public health issue.

According to WHO, over 650 million adults and 378 million children worldwide are obese. Furthermore, data from the CDC indicates that the prevalence of obesity in the United States is high. Obesity statistics show that approximately 93.3 million US adults and 13.7 million US children and teenagers are obese.

Obesity is a chronic disease that occurs when the body has an excess amount of fat. It increases the risk of developing multiple health conditions like stroke, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, etc.

So, can obesity be cured or treated, and most importantly, how can it be prevented? This article will provide you with well-researched information that will enhance your understanding of obesity. Keep reading to learn more about this disease. 

Common Causes of Obesity

Genetics

The heritability rate of obesity is between 40% and 70%, indicating that a person is at risk of obesity if one or both of their parents are obese. Since genes play a vital role in our makeup, they also affect the hormone controlling fat regulation. 

Leptin, a fat-regulating hormone, sends signals to the brain to eat less when the body fat levels get too high. When this hormone is affected by genetics, it becomes deficient, and the brain fails to receive the control signals. This leads to overeating and consequently causes obesity.

Overeating

Eating more food than your body can burn causes obesity. Consuming large portions that contain high amounts of fats and sugars increases your risk of obesity. 

Fast food and obesity are often linked together due to the high concentration of fats and calories in small portions of fast food. Consequently, obesity will occur when these high-energy foods are consumed continuously in supersized portions. 

Physical Inactivity

Lack of physical activity and overeating tend to go hand in hand and typically cause morbid obesity. Regular exercise and other activities help the body burn calories. An individual who fails to exercise and eats unhealthy is likely to be diagnosed with obesity at one point. 

Diseases

In some people, obesity can occur because of a disease. Medical conditions like Cushing syndrome, Prader-Willi syndrome, hypothyroidism, arthritis, and depression can lead to weight gain. In hypothyroidism, the thyroid gland produces insufficient quantities of the thyroid hormone. The lack of this hormone slows down the metabolism rate and consequently causes weight gain.  

Medications

Available obesity facts show that some prescribed medications may cause you to gain weight. The side effects of these medications may cause you to eat more than you usually do. 

They can also slow down your metabolism rate, causing your body to burn fewer calories. Medications used to treat depression, migraines, seizures, high blood pressure, and diabetes can increase weight. 

Social and Economic Issues

Certain social and economic problems are closely linked to obesity. Lack of safe areas to exercise and take part in other physical activities will increase a person’s chances of obesity. Likewise, not having enough money to keep buying healthier food can also cause a person to become obese.

Prevention and Control of Obesity in Infants, Children, Teens, and Adults 

Infants

Most strategies for preventing and controlling obesity are often centered around children, teens, and adults who are already overweight or obese. However, with an increase in the number of obese preschoolers, it is crucial for babies to be afforded a healthy lifestyle, as obese babies tend to become obese adults. 

So, what obesity prevention strategies can be employed to ensure a healthy weight for babies? 

  • They should exclusively be breastfed during the first six months.
  • When unable to breastfeed, replace it with the best practice formula feeding.
  • Avoid putting babies to sleep with a bottle.
  • Avoid feeding infants solid food during the first six months. 
  • Promote healthy first food choices.
  • Always feed babies the appropriate portion sizes.
  • Avoid using food as a reward.
  • Help your child develop healthy sleeping patterns.
  • Promote physically active play and outdoor activities.
  • Visit your baby’s healthcare provider regularly for routine BMI checkups. 

Children and Teens

Recent data from the CDC indicates that childhood obesity is highly prevalent in the US, affecting 13.7 million children and teens. A child or a teenager is considered obese if they are in the 95th percentile or above on the growth chart. 

Due to poor food choices, lack of physical activity, genetics, and other factors, it’s not uncommon for children and adolescents to become overweight or obese. Here are some essential obesity prevention tips for children and teenagers:

  • Parents should lead by example, by eating healthy meals and exercising often.
  • Promote the consumption of fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, and nuts.
  • Reduce the consumption of high-sugar, high-fat, and salty foods.
  • Limit the consumption of sweetened beverages like soft drinks and fruit juices.
  • Keep the fridge and pantry filled with healthy foods, snacks, and drinks. 
  • Encourage children and teens to eat slowly and only when they are hungry.
  • Parents and children should regularly shop for healthy food and make meals together. 
  • Refrain from using food as a reward or punishment.
  • Encourage regular enjoyable physical activities.
  • Limit the time spent with digital gadgets like computers and television to no more than 2 hours daily.
  • Ensure that children and teenagers are getting enough sleep.

Adults

Obesity in older adults is far more common than in younger people. This is so because, as one grows older, the amount of muscle in the body decreases, which leads to a decrease in metabolism. This consequently reduces calorie needs and makes it easy to gain weight. 

Here are some recommended strategies that adults can use to prevent obesity and maintain the ideal body weight:

  • Consume more fruits, vegetables, and dietary fiber.
  • Avoid highly processed food made with white sugar, flour, or saturated fats.
  • Avoid high-energy foods that contain a lot of calories in small food portions.
  • Reduce food portion sizes and use a smaller plate. 
  • Increase water intake and avoid sugary beverages.
  • Reduce daily stress, as it may trigger cravings for high-calorie foods.
  • Make sure you’re getting enough sleep.
  • Engage in at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity each week.
  • Engage in a biweekly weight training regimen.
  • Monitor your weight every week.

Obesity Treatment

Unfortunately, obesity does not have a universal cure or treatment that can immediately restore anyone to perfect health. Generally, treating obesity involves multiple approaches that require significant lifestyle changes

These changes may have to be permanent, as most people who lose weight gain it back in roughly five years. Below you’ll find some treatment strategies that have been proven to help treat and manage obesity.

Diet and Exercise

With the help of a dietician, therapist, and a weight specialist, most overweight and obese people can lose weight by sticking to a healthy diet and engaging in regular physical activities.

However, it is important to set realistic weight loss goals as failure to do so can greatly affect your self-esteem and consequently your weight loss journey. A modest weight loss of 5%–10% can significantly improve your health. Obese elderly people should consult their doctors before engaging in vigorous physical activities. 

Medications

Individuals with a body mass index (BMI) that is higher than 30 may require medication treatment. People with a BMI lower than 27 who are exposed to obesity-associated health risks like diabetes or high blood pressure may need medications as well. These anti-obesity drugs reduce appetite and create a sense of satiety. Naturally, they should be combined with a healthy diet plan and regular exercise and not used in place of them.

Weight Loss Surgery

Surgical procedures are used to treat morbidly obese individuals with a BMI of over 40. Individuals with a BMI of 35 who have serious health complications also sometimes undergo surgery to help with weight loss. 

These surgical treatments generally involve reducing the size of the stomach and slowing down digestion. In other cases, a part of the digestive system is removed to decrease food absorption.

FAQ

What causes obesity?

Obesity is a complex chronic disease that is caused by a combination of several factors. Generally, obesity develops when your body contains more fat than it can burn through physical activities. Obesity causes may be related to genetics, overeating, lack of physical activity, diseases, medications, etc. 

What does obesity do to your body?

Obesity is a serious disease that increases your risk of other deadly diseases and health conditions. 

Individuals suffering from obesity are at a higher risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, cardiovascular diseases, insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, stroke, depression, sleep apnea, liver disease, certain cancers, gastroesophageal reflux disease, gallbladder problems, kidney failure, skin fold rashes, joint pain, and weakening of muscles and bones.

What is considered obese or overweight?

Obesity medical definition, according to WHO, is abnormal or excessive accumulation of fat in the body that presents a health risk. The body mass index (BMI) is used as a screening tool to determine if a person is obese or overweight. 

According to the CDC, a person is overweight or obese when they weigh more than what is considered healthy for their height. An adult is overweight if their BMI is between 25.0 and 29.9. Adults with a BMI of 30.0 or higher are considered obese.  

Who is at risk for obesity?

People living in certain populations are at a higher risk of obesity than others. Individuals aged 60 and above living in rural areas are more likely to suffer from obesity than their urban peers. Also, low-income families, Latino migrant farmworkers, Caucasians residing in Appalachia, Native Americans living on reservations, and African Americans living in the south are at a high risk of obesity. 

Furthermore, the CDC’s data suggests that non-Hispanic black people have the highest rate of age-adjusted obesity in the US (49.6%). They are followed by Hispanics (44.8%) and non-Hispanic whites (42.2%). Non-Hispanic Asians have the lowest prevalence of obesity in the country (17.4%).

What is the best diet for an obese person?

Although one diet can’t work for everyone, the typical meal plan for managing obesity should include plenty of fruits and vegetables. Wholegrain varieties of foods such as bread and pasta can be consumed in large quantities, as can starchy foods like rice and potatoes. 

Smaller portions of milk, dairy, and non-dairy protein foods like beans, meat, fish, and eggs should also be a part of the diet. However, food that’s high in fat and sugar should only be consumed in extremely small amounts. Excessively salty foods should also be avoided, as they can increase blood pressure. 

Why is it important to prevent obesity?

It is crucial to prevent obesity because it is a chronic disease that increases the risk of multiple health conditions. Obesity has caused the death of a staggering number of people worldwide. 

According to the World Health Organization, approximately 2.8 million people die from obesity each year. The disease makes people susceptible to certain cancers, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, cardiovascular disease, etc.

How can we prevent obesity?

The best way to prevent obesity is to eat healthy meals and engage in more physical activities. At least 100 to 150 minutes of moderately intense exercise each week can help in preventing obesity. 

Eating large amounts of vegetables and wholegrain foods can also lower your risk of becoming obese. However, this doesn’t mean you can’t eat foods with a lot of fat and sugar at all. Foods that contain large amounts of calories or fat can be consumed in small amounts as a rare treat.

How can we stop the obesity epidemic?

Obesity has turned into a worldwide epidemic that is now prevalent in both developed and third-world countries. Encouraging healthy eating habits and promoting physical activities on a global and local level is a major step in stopping this disease. 

We should also keep establishing policies that facilitate access to healthy food options and training healthcare practitioners to effectively educate individuals on healthy living, how to lose weight, and appropriate dieting.

What are schools doing to prevent obesity?

As obesity is becoming more common among children, many schools have taken steps to protect the health of their students. 

Most of them are doing so by promoting regular enjoyable physical activity, encouraging healthy food choices that meet national nutritional standards, and by educating children on the importance of good nutrition and the consequences of eating unhealthy food. 

Some schools also periodically monitor body weight to identify children at risk of becoming overweight or obese.

How can exercise prevent obesity?

As long as you don’t eat more calories than you burn through physical activities, regular exercise will go a long way in preventing obesity.

Simple physical activities like swimming or walking can burn a lot of calories. Exercising can help you burn fat around the waist, preventing the development of abdominal obesity. A combination of a healthy diet and sufficient physical activity is the number one way to reduce your risk of obesity. 

Conclusion

Obesity is a complex disease that can lead to other harmful health conditions like sleep apnea, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, cardiovascular disease, and cancer. Obesity in America is now considered an epidemic affecting millions of children and adults. Overweight and obesity are the second leading cause of preventable death in the country, killing approximately 30,000 people every year.

Although this disease is easily preventable in some people, several factors like genetics, other diseases, medications, and socioeconomic issues may increase the chances of developing it for others. 

Whether you’re concerned about how to prevent obesity or how to treat it, it is essential to remember that we are what we eat. The best way to remain healthy is by eating healthy meals, engaging in regular physical activities, and incorporating other beneficial lifestyle changes.