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Obesity: The New Age Epidemic

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Obesity: The New Age Epidemic

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Obesity is a complex lifestyle disease that seems to have assumed epidemic proportions. This article discusses the causes of obesity and the measures to halt its progress.

Medically reviewed by

iCliniq medical review team

Published At January 3, 2015
Reviewed AtMarch 6, 2024

Introduction

An epidemic is something that spreads rapidly and affects an inordinately large number of people at the same time. There will be a rapid rise in the number of new cases well above the defined baseline. By this simplistic definition, obesity fits the bill rather perfectly. Obesity is a lifestyle disease. That is, it occurs due to a combination of factors, most notably due to a faulty lifestyle. Hence it is also regarded to be a lifestyle influenced medical condition. It enhances the likelihood of developing various other medical conditions that can pose challenges to one's life.

What Is Body Mass Index (BMI)?

When the (Body Mass Index) BMI is equal to or more than 30 kilograms per meter square of the person's height, a person is said to be obese. There are three grades of obesity and a person with a BMI equal to or more than that of 40 kilograms per meter square is said to be 'morbidly obese', or said to have grade 3 obesity. Obesity is not the same as being overweight. A BMI of 25 kilograms per meter square or exceeding that is classified as being overweight.

What Are the Different Causes of Obesity?

  • Like many of the new-age lifestyle diseases, obesity too runs in families. It has a genetic preponderance. Polymorphisms involving the leptin gene or leptin receptor deficiency are some of the commonly identified genetic risk factors for this dreaded disease.
  • Along with genes, a number of other factors also contribute to the ever-expanding modern-day waistlines. These include a sedentary lifestyle, faulty dietary habits, lack of physical exercise, and the enormous stress that is prevalent these days.
  • Modern-day gadgets like smartphones, i-pad, tablets, and computers have assumed a pivotal role in the causation of obesity. Individuals who are hooked onto these devices, become couch potatoes and lack physical exercise. They strain their eyes, but not their bellies and they keep staring into their computer screens, either tweeting or face-booking. This becomes a habit and the mere mention of exercise startles such individuals.
  • Junk foods are a major culprit that can potentially lead to obesity. Majority of the junk foods contain monosodium glutamate (MSG), an ingredient that enhances the taste of a food item but is toxic to the body. High calorific value with zero nutritional content in these junk foods is the harbinger of many a malady. With the emergence of diverse varieties of junk foods, people started relying on this food rather than healthy homemade food items. Daily consumption of junk foods, which are loaded with harmful chemicals and unhealthy fats forms the basic foundation for obesity development.
  • In the good old days, people used to bend their backs and till their lands. This provided adequate physical exercise and they lived well past their prime without falling sick or harboring illnesses like diabetes mellitus or hypertension. But the sedentary lifestyle of people has increased the number of obese individuals these days.

What Are the Risk Factors of Obesity?

  • Genetic Cause - Family inheritance and influences, including genetic predispositions, impact body fat storage and distribution, as well as metabolic processes such as energy conversion, appetite regulation, and calorie expenditure during exercise. Obesity often runs in families due not only to shared genes but also to similar dietary and activity patterns among family members.

  • Lifestyle Changes - Lifestyle choices, such as an unhealthy diet high in calories and low in fruits and vegetables, along with excessive consumption of fast food and sugary beverages, contribute to weight gain. Sedentary behaviors, including prolonged screen time, also increase the risk of obesity by promoting calorie intake without corresponding physical activity.

  • Certain medical conditions and medications can lead to weight gain, either directly through metabolic disturbances or indirectly by reducing physical activity levels.

  • Social and economic factors, such as limited access to safe exercise spaces and unhealthy cooking practices, also contribute to obesity.

  • Age-related hormonal changes and decreased muscle mass decrease metabolism, making weight management more challenging without conscious dietary control and increased physical activity.

What Impacts Does Obesity Have on the Body?

Direct Effects of Obesity- Excessive body fat can directly impact various systems within the body. It can lead to the compression of respiratory organs and impose strain on the musculoskeletal system, resulting in conditions such as asthma, sleep apnea, and obesity hypoventilation syndrome. It can also contribute to musculoskeletal issues such as osteoarthritis, back pain, and gout.

Indirect Effects of Obesity - Obesity is linked to various indirect consequences, such as impaired memory and cognition, which can elevate the likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. It is also associated with female infertility and complications during pregnancy. Mental health concerns like depression and mood disorders are also correlated with obesity. Certain types of cancer, including pancreatic, colorectal, breast, esophageal, uterine, and ovarian cancers, are more prevalent in individuals who are obese.

What Are the Medical Complications That Arises Due to Obesity?

Obesity comes with its fair share of other medical complications. Obesity increases the risk for diabetes mellitus (elevated blood sugar level), hypertension (elevated blood pressure), osteoarthritis (bone pain), obstructive sleep apnea (due to transient airway obstruction), Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD), gall bladder stones, and depression. Unfortunately, doctors are being the victims of this disease as a result of their long consulting hours, which leaves little room for exercise, modern-day stresses, and unhealthy eating patterns.

What Are the Methods Used to Diagnose Obesity?

Healthcare professionals will measure weight, height, and waist circumference. Importantly, when seeking care, providers will inquire about the entire health history, including medical conditions, medications, and weight fluctuations. They will also inquire about current eating, sleeping, exercise patterns, stress factors, and past weight loss attempts. Family health history may also be discussed.

Providers will conduct examinations, check vital signs such as heart rate and blood pressure, and listen to heart and lung sounds. Blood tests may be administered to assess blood glucose, and cholesterol levels, and screen for hormone imbalances. This comprehensive assessment aids in diagnosing obesity and related conditions.

How to Fight this Modern Day Epidemic?

Here are a few time-tested solutions.

  • Never Skip Breakfast: Regularize your eating habits. Have a hearty breakfast, which will not only increase the fat metabolism throughout the day but will also give you enough energy to expend during the day. Do not overeat during dinner time. Give up on junk food, or at least restrict it to a bare minimum. Have frequent small meals. It is advisable to eat 6 to 8 times a day, with small to moderate servings.
  • Get Adequate Physical Exercise: Brisk walking for an hour per day will do a world of good to everybody. It will keep us supple and our joints mobile. Walking is economical and injury free. Swimming is another great option to burn calories. It also comes with the advantage of being injury free as it is a non-weight-bearing exercise.
  • Restrict Screen Time: Reduce screen time to less than an hour per day. By screen time, we mean interactions on social media platforms and watching television. These will only help us in slumping to our chairs and provide no motivation to move around. Play any form of sport. This not only helps in socializing with others but also is a fun way to remain fit.
  • Practice Yoga: Yoga is another option to stay supple. It calms one's mind and also energizes oneself. Studies show that regular practice of yoga can increase the expression of a chemical called BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor), which helps in fighting memory problems, sleeplessness, and depression.
  • Bariatric Surgery: Those with a BMI of more than 40 would require bariatric surgery to help them reduce weight. It is a form of weight loss surgery, which modifies the person's depth and intensity of hunger. It is often advised as a last resort when all other conservative approaches fail to bring fruitful results.

Conclusion

The incidence and the prevalence of obesity is rising exponentially over the last few years. It is high time to tackle this lifestyle malady, which can wreck one's quality of life. Although we have failed to nip this disease in the bud, we can at least hope to halt its progression. Appropriate preventive measures and lifestyle alterations can bring drastic changes in the progression of obesity, which itself checks the development of associated medical conditions

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Dr. Alok Vinod Kulkarni
Dr. Alok Vinod Kulkarni

Psychiatry

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obesity
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