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The Obesity Epidemic

What is Obesity?

Obesity is a common health condition in many countries around the world and if it is left unaddressed, it can lead to other health issues such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and hypertension. Obesity is defined as the abnormal accumulation of body fat that presents other health risks (as mentioned previously); a body mass index of over 30 is considered obese. For the first time in history, by the year 2000, the number of adults that were overweight or obese surpassed the number of underweight individuals. To understand the gravity of the obesity epidemic, here are some latest facts:

  1. In 2016, 1.9 billion adults worldwide were overweight while 650 million were obese

  2. In 2019, 38.3 million children under the age of 5 were overweight or obese

To learn more about the obesity epidemic in the United States, click here. In summary, obesity is a multidimensional issue -- many factors such as cultural, social and economic status, contribute to its rise in the US. For example, socioeconomically disadvantaged individuals may not have the access or finances to maintain a healthy diet; more individuals are driving to and from work/school, leading to reduced physical activity and a sedentary lifestyle.

Note: I recommend reading more in depth about diabetes as it is a common health condition in the US -- 34.2 million Americans have diabetes and 88 million American adults have prediabetes. If uncontrolled, diabetes can lead to many complications: cardiovascular disease, nerve damage (neuropathy), kidney damage (nephropathy), eye damage (retinopathy), and more. Read more about it here.

How is excess body weight obtained?

  1. Dietary energy intake: In other words, an increase in caloric intake will lead to weight gain (e.g. more calories consumed than expended). Data suggests that there has been a rough increase of 200 kcal/day over the past 20 years in the US; some of this increase is due to consuming “empty” calories such as sweetened beverages and not consuming enough fruits and vegetables.

  2. Reduced physical activity: In 2000, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that 40% of the US population is sedentary. The average US teenager spends over 30 hours per week watching TV, which is a sedentary activity. Additionally, watching television is associated with reduced consumption of healthy foods due to the consumption of junk food and the influence of (unhealthy) food commercials.

What environmental factors can lead to obesity?

  1. Mechanization of life: More individuals are utilizing technology and vehicles to get from place to place, resulting in reduced physical activity (e.g. less walking).

  2. Unsafe locations: Unsafe public places can prevent individuals from walking to work or school.

  3. Fast food: Fast food restaurants offer many high calorie foods that are low cost and easy to grab in today’s busy world.

How can obesity be prevented/resolved?

Individual Level

  1. Incorporate more fruits and veggies into the diet. A study suggests that five servings of fruits and vegetables was associated with the lowest risk of death. Specifically, two servings daily of fruits and three servings daily of vegetables was associated with longer life.

  2. Increase daily physical activity. Physical activity can prevent obesity in the following ways: (1) increase total energy expenditure, (2) decrease total body fat, (3) muscle-strengthening activities can build muscle and burn more calories throughout the day.

  3. Parents should limit children's’ television time to prevent a sedentary lifestyle

Community Level

  1. Increase access to fruits and vegetables through farmer’s market programs

  2. Advocate for nutrition and physical health programs in schools

Works Cited:


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