“Obese” is a term that is thrown around lightly today. Children shout variations of the word across the playground to their classmates. Teenagers will find any excuse to insult their peers with this phrase. Even adults are guilty of describing personal imperfections as “obese”. Why?
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that 66% of the American population suffers from overweight or obesity. This means that the chance of being correct when calling someone obese is surprisingly high. However, the word “obese” was not created as an insult. Obesity is a potentially fatal health condition that can affect every aspect of ones life.
In most cases, obesity is diagnosed using one’s body mass index (BMI). A BMI is a number that defines weight relative to height; it can be calculated by dividing one’s weight (in kilograms) by squared height (in meters). A resulting number greater than or equal to 30 indicates obesity. (BMI < 18.5 = underweight; 18.5-24.9 = healthy weight; 25.0-29.9 = overweight.) To calculate your BMI, go to http://www.nhlbisupport.com/bmi/.
Causes of Obesity
Obesity is caused by consuming more calories than one expends. Essentially, when overeating, any calories that are not used for energy become fat. However, there are a number of reasons why someone would be inclined to eat more than necessary. Two of these reasons are genetics and environment.
Genetics play a role in obesity by predisposing individuals to an excessive appetite. In recent years, researchers have identified an obesity gene, cleverly named the ob gene, which promotes the production of leptin. Leptin is a hormone that is released from stomach cells in the presence of food to initiate the feeling of fullness. Individuals with a defective ob gene do not produce leptin and are inclines to over-consume foods in the absence of satiety (feeling of fullness). Paradoxically, ghrelin is a hormone that increases ones appetite and is currently the subject of much research.
As obesity rates increase, researchers are discovering that the gene pool is relatively unchanged. Therefore, environmental factors must play a large role in obesity. These factors include diet, physical activity, and every circumstance we encounter on a daily basis that pushes us towards weight gain or loss.
Overeating is a cause of obesity that is often dictated by our environment. Limited time to cook due to a busy workday demands that we eat calorie-laden packaged foods as an alternative. In today’s economy, cheaper foods are more attractive, and always more calorically dense. Restaurant portions are larger than they were decades ago. Unless you know what to look for, it can be very easy to overeat in today’s environment.
Our environments breed limited physical activity as well. Some neighborhoods lack sidewalks for safe strolls. Getting to work requires little exertion- drive to the office, take the elevator to your desk, sit for eight hours, drive home. At home, it is often all too easy to sit in front of the television for the remainder of the evening to relax after a hard workday. Ultimately, Americans are becoming more sedentary with advances in technology and the strains of work.
Obesity is a life-threatening medical condition. It contributes to cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and even cancer. First Lady Michelle Obama is currently working to promote healthy weights among American children. This is a great step towards a healthier nation, but we must all take individual steps as well.
There are many steps you can take to prevent obesity, even if you think you are genetically predisposed. First, watch your diet and cut out any sugary, processed foods; these include baked goods, packaged foods, and sodas. Secondly, be physically active every day; this can mean taking the stairs instead of the elevator, walking to the supermarket, playing outside, or going to the gym. Unfortunately, weight-loss is not easy. However, it is possible.