Most animals are designed to store fat in their body as energy reserves. The fat is then converted to energy when the body undergoes starvation. This survival mechanism evolved from the scarcity of food in the wild.
Humans carry this trait too, and it has helped our species survive over several millennia. Never would our forefathers have dreamt of the abundance of food we have at our disposal today.
The body’s boon of being able to store fat as energy reserves has now become a bane. With food, especially processed and preserved food high in fat and sugar, being easily accessible today, the human body ends up accumulating fat.
Our increasingly sedentary lives make it harder to use these fat reserves for adequate physical activity. This can lead to excessive weight gain, which brings with it an array of health issues.
Obesity is a medical condition characterized by an excessive accumulation of body fat. It is a complex disorder caused by a combination of genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors that affect millions of people around the world. The excessive accumulation of fat, and subsequent weight gain, leads to various health problems like diabetes, and heart disease.
Understanding the causes and consequences of obesity is essential to develop strategies that will be effective in preventing and managing your weight.
What is obesity?
Obesity is a medical condition that results in excessive storage of fat in the body, which can lead to negative health outcomes. Being obese is generally defined as having a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 30 or higher.
BMI is calculated by dividing a person’s weight in kilograms by their height in meters squared.
Obesity can result from a complex interplay of genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors. Genetic factors can influence a person’s metabolism and propensity to gain weight. Environmental and lifestyle factors, such as a high-calorie diet and a sedentary lifestyle, can lead to weight gain.
Obesity is associated with a range of health complications, including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, certain types of cancer, and joint problems. It can also harm mental health, contributing to depression, anxiety, and decreased self-esteem.
Treating obesity often involves a combination of dietary changes, increased physical activity, and lifestyle modification. In some severe cases, medication or surgery may also be recommended.
Prevention is also an important aspect of managing obesity, and promoting healthy eating habits and regular physical activity from childhood can help reduce the risk of developing obesity later in life.
Causes of obesity
Obesity can be caused by a variety of reasons:
Genetic factors are a prominent cause of obesity. You are more likely to develop obesity if this disease is a pre-existing condition in your family history.
Scientists have identified several genes that contribute to the regulation of body weight and fat distribution. Mutations in these genes can lead to adverse effects, including obesity.
For example, mutations in the leptin gene can result in the body’s inability to regulate appetite and body weight, leading to obesity. Similarly, mutations in the melanocortin-4 receptor gene impair the body’s ability to regulate energy balance and, subsequently, lead to excessive weight gain.
1. Environmental factors:
Environmental factors refer to the accessibility of resources based on a person’s geographic or socio-economic position. Easy access to high-calorie food and a sedentary lifestyle can lead to obesity.
Environmental factors like access to healthcare facilities and space for physical activity also play a role in determining one’s ability to maintain their weight.
In modern society, unhealthy food (food that is processed, preserved, or high in sugar and fat) is widely available, making it easier to consume excessive calories.
Additionally, sedentary behavior, such as prolonged sitting and lack of physical activity, can reduce energy expenditure and increase the risk of obesity.
2. Lifestyle factors:
Lifestyle factors, like dietary habits and the amount of physical activity, also impact the development of obesity. Consuming a diet high in calories, sugar, and saturated fats, but low in fiber and nutrients can lead to weight gain.
Inadequate physical activity and a sedentary lifestyle can also reduce energy expenditure, leading to weight gain.
Additional factors like stress, inadequate sleep, and smoking can exacerbate the production of the hormone cortisol in the body, which leads to elevated blood sugar levels and, subsequently, fat storage.
3. Pre-existing medical conditions:
Certain medical conditions can also contribute to the development of obesity. Hormonal disorders, such as hypothyroidism and Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), can affect metabolism and cause weight gain.
Additionally, Cushing’s syndrome, a disorder characterized by high levels of cortisol, can lead to weight gain and other health problems.
Certain medications, such as corticosteroids and some antidepressants, can increase appetite and cause weight gain.
In some cases, obesity may also be a side effect of medical procedures, such as certain types of surgery (most commonly due to fluid retention in the body) or cancer treatments (Hormonal treatments cause hormonal imbalance).
How to Prevent Obesity?
Preventing obesity is vital in reducing the risk of developing various related health problems. Obesity prevention requires a commitment to adopting healthy habits and lifestyle changes. Here are some ways to prevent obesity:
i). Adopting a healthy diet:
Following a healthy diet is the foundation of obesity prevention. A balanced diet consisting of fresh food rich in protein, fiber, and essential nutrients can help maintain a healthy weight.
On the other hand, avoiding high-calorie, high-fat, and high-sugar food and beverages can also help prevent weight gain. The same goes for processed and preserved food.
ii). Engaging in regular physical activity:
Regular physical activity can help burn calories and prevent weight gain. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends a fitness regime of at least 150 minutes (2.5 hours) of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes (1.15 hours) of vigorous-intensity per week.
A combination of aerobic exercise and strength training is ideal for maintaining a healthy weight and improving overall health. Aerobic exercises are especially helpful in maintaining your heart and lung health.
iii). Limiting sedentary behavior:
Sedentary behavior, like prolonged sitting, can reduce energy expenditure and increase the risk of obesity. Regular physical activity and taking frequent breaks from sitting can help prevent weight gain.
Simple changes, such as taking the stairs instead of the elevator and walking during phone calls, can also make a difference.
iv). Getting enough sleep:
Sleep deprivation is one of the biggest causes of obesity. Inadequate sleep can disrupt the body’s metabolism and increase the risk of obesity.
Getting adequate sleep, ideally, 7-9 hours per night, can help prevent weight gain. Establishing a consistent sleep schedule and creating a relaxing bedtime routine helps improve sleep quality which, in turn, helps your body’s metabolic processes.
v). Managing stress:
Chronic stress can lead to the secretion of cortisol, leading to overeating and weight gain. Cortisol also causes the increased conversion of food into fat storage in the body.
Managing stress through relaxation techniques, such as meditation or yoga, can help prevent obesity. Other stress-reducing strategies may include spending time with loved ones, pursuing hobbies, or engaging in physical activity.
vi). Avoiding smoking and excessive alcohol consumption:
Smoking and excessive alcohol consumption can increase the risk of obesity and other health problems. Avoiding these habits or seeking help to quit can help prevent obesity.
Reach out to your healthcare provider and loved ones if you need help quitting smoking or reducing alcohol consumption.
vii). Seeking professional advice:
Working with a qualified dietician or a certified personal trainer can provide you with the guidance and support you need to adopt healthy habits sustainably in the long run.
viii). Seeking community help:
Having a companion or partner in your weight loss journey can motivate you to stay committed to the process. Some people also benefit from participating in counseling sessions and support groups.
Preventing obesity requires a long-term commitment to adopting healthy habits and lifestyle changes. It is important to make gradual changes and set realistic goals to prevent feeling frustrated or discouraged almost immediately.
By making healthier choices and seeking support, you can reduce the risk of developing obesity and improve your overall health.
Treatments for Obesity
Obesity is a chronic medical condition that can lead to serious health problems down the line. The objective of obesity treatment is to achieve a healthy weight and maintain it. This, in turn, reduces the risk of obesity-related health problems and improves overall health.
Here are some treatments for obesity:
i). Lifestyle modification:
Lifestyle modification is the first line of treatment to combat obesity and can be effective in promoting weight loss.
This involves adopting healthy habits, such as consuming fresh and healthy food, and regular physical activity, to promote weight loss and maintain a healthy weight.
A registered dietician or a certified personal trainer can help you make well-informed lifestyle changes.
Medications may be prescribed to aid in weight loss, particularly for individuals who have a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher, or a BMI of 27 or higher with obesity-related health problems.
Medications work by suppressing appetite or inhibiting the absorption of fat in the body.
However, medication should be taken only with the explicit permission of your healthcare provider via prescriptions. These medications should be used in conjunction with lifestyle modifications, and under the guidance of a healthcare provider.
Common weight loss medications include phentermine, liraglutide, and orlistat.
iii). Bariatric surgery:
Bariatric surgery is a surgical procedure that alters the digestive system to promote weight loss. The most common types of bariatric surgery are gastric bypass, sleeve gastrectomy, and adjustable gastric banding.
Bariatric surgery is generally recommended for individuals with a BMI of 40 or higher, or a BMI of 35 or higher with obesity-related health problems.
Bariatric surgery can be highly effective in promoting weight loss and improving overall health, but also carries risks, and should only be considered after all other weight loss methods have been exhausted.
iv). Behavioral therapy:
Behavioral therapy involves working with a mental health professional to identify and modify behaviors that contribute to overeating and weight gain.
Behavioral therapy may include cognitive-behavioral therapy, which helps individuals develop coping strategies for managing stress and emotional eating, or interpersonal therapy, which focuses on improving relationships and communication skills.
Behavioral therapy can be effective in promoting long-term weight loss and improving overall mental health and well-being.
Obesity treatment is individualized and may involve a combination of these treatments. The best approach to obesity treatment is a multidisciplinary approach that involves working with a healthcare provider, qualified dietician, certified personal trainer, and mental health professional.
Obesity is a chronic condition that can afflict you throughout your life. Apart from creating difficulty in performing everyday tasks, obesity can lead to other adverse health conditions.
Adopting preventive measures is the best way to deal with obesity. This can easily be done by adopting healthy choices in terms of diet and exercise.
Long-term success in managing obesity requires a commitment to adopting healthy habits, making gradual changes, and seeking support when needed.
It is important to speak with a healthcare provider to determine the best approach to weight loss and obesity management based on individual needs and health status.
Adopting a healthy process-oriented mindset, instead of a result-oriented one, can go a long way in ensuring long-term success.
Q1: How to determine whether you are obese?
Ans: Obesity is defined as having a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher. BMI can be calculated by dividing your weight in kilograms by your height in meters squared. You can check your BMI here.
Q2: What are some health issues caused by obesity?
Ans: The increased body weight and body fat percentage caused by obesity can lead to an array of health conditions, including type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, certain types of cancer, and sleep apnea.
Q3: What causes obesity?
Ans: Obesity is caused by a combination of genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors. Eating a diet high in calories and lacking in nutrients, being physically inactive, and having certain genetic traits are just some of the factors that cause obesity.
Q4: Can obesity be prevented?
Ans: Prevention is the best way of combating obesity. It can be easily prevented by adopting healthy habits like following a balanced diet, incorporating a workout regime, and getting enough sleep. It is also important to avoid tobacco use and excessive alcohol consumption.
Q5: What treatments are available for obesity?
Ans: Various treatments for obesity aim to work towards and maintain a healthy body weight. The individual symptoms or causal medical conditions can be gradually corrected by fixing the underlying problem of body weight.
Treatments for obesity include lifestyle modifications, medications, bariatric surgery, behavioral therapy, and support groups.
The best approach to obesity treatment is a multidisciplinary approach that involves a healthcare provider, registered dietician, certified personal trainer, and mental health professional.
Q6: Is bariatric surgery a safe and effective treatment for obesity?
Ans: Bariatric surgery can be highly effective in promoting weight loss and improving overall health, but it also carries risks and should only be considered after other weight loss methods have been met without success.
The safety and effectiveness of bariatric surgery depend on individual factors, such as age, weight, and overall health status.
Q7: What is the role of physical activity in obesity treatment?
Ans: Regular physical activity is an important component of obesity treatment, as it can help promote weight loss, improve overall health, and reduce the risk of obesity-related health problems. A certified personal trainer or exercise physiologist can provide guidance and support in developing an individualized exercise plan.
Q8: Can medication be used to treat obesity?
Ans: Yes, medication can be prescribed to aid in weight loss, particularly for individuals who have a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher or a BMI of 27 or higher with obesity-related health problems. Medications work by suppressing appetite or inhibiting the absorption of fat in the body.
However, medications should be used in conjunction with lifestyle modifications and under the guidance of a healthcare provider.