Development and urbanization have created many changes in the way we live, sometimes resulting in undesirable consequences like obesity. It’s time to rethink our approach to diet and nutrition to live a life of better health and well-being.
What is obesity? How is it different from being overweight?
Our ‘normal’ body weight differs according to age, gender, height and genetic or cultural background. However, to calculate the percentage of body fat, experts rely on the Body Mass Index or BMI, which defines overweight as a body mass index (BMI) of 25 or higher while obesity is defined as a BMI of 30 or higher.
Can obesity be hereditary?
Yes – genetic background plays a role, as do metabolism, behaviour, environment, culture and even socioeconomic status. Behaviour and environment are the most significant factors yet they are also the two factors that can be modified to prevent and rectify obesity.
If obesity is hereditary, how can I do anything about it?
- Family history is a non-modifiable risk factor; however other factors such as diet and physical activity can be modified, hence you do have the power to fight obesity.
- In a study of adults who were adopted as children, researchers found that the living environment provided by the adoptive family had less influence on the development of obesity than the person’s genetic makeup. If your biological mother is heavy as an adult, there is a 75% chance that you will be heavy. However, many people genetically predisposed to obesity do not become obese or are able to lose weight and keep it off.
What’s the big deal about obesity anyway?
Rates of obesity are increasing dramatically worldwide – The World Health Organization (WHO) recorded approximately 200 million obese adults worldwide in 1995; five years later, the figure had grown to over 300 million. In 2008, an estimated 200 million men and nearly 300 million women were obese.
Drastic changes in how we live have contributed to this epidemic – our daily diet now includes high amounts of processed foods, in large portions high in salt, fat and sugar, while daily physical activity:
- has greatly reduced. In short, it has become exceedingly easy to consume far more calories than we can burn.
- Due to its far-reaching implications on current and future populations, obesity is one of the focus areas under The ‘+’ Project, of which Healthy Living is one of its three Core Themes. The ‘+’ Project, a multi-year programme, is initiated by Philips to improve health and well-being for people in the Asia Pacific region.
How does it affect me?
Obesity places a great strain on your entire body, including your joints and internal organs.
- Being obese increases your risk for:
- Coronary heart disease
- Type 2 diabetes
- Cancers (endometrial, breast, and colon)
- Hypertension (high blood pressure)
- High total cholesterol or high levels of triglycerides
- Liver and Gallbladder disease
- Sleep apnea and respiratory problems
- Osteoarthritis (a degeneration of cartilage and its underlying bone within a joint)
- Researchers have also found a link between obesity and functional impairment among older adults, which is a dire forecast for a rapidly aging world population.
I know what I have to do to keep my weight down…but my favourite foods are just too tempting.
- Make small changes, and stick to them. Obesity is a vicious cycle and it takes time to get out from its trap – years of unhealthy habits won’t disappear in mere weeks or even months, but the every effort counts.
- Eat wisely: Healthy food doesn’t have to be bland or boring. Try these simple changes – eat more fruits and vegetables; avoid deep-fried foods and choose grilled, steamed or roasted options instead; choose vinaigrette or olive oil-based salad dressings instead of cream-based dressings; when eating out, ask for sauces on the side (sauces are often high in salt and fat), and share large portions with a friend. It’s also important to cut back on processed and convenience foods, as these contain high amounts of salt, sugar, fat and other additives. Home-cooked meals are healthier in terms of nutrition as well as portion size. Avoid carbonated and sweetened drinks – many so-called fruit juices contain just as much sugar as a soft drink; choose whole fruits to get more vitamins and fibre, or juice your own for instant goodness. Snack on nuts, crackers, cereals or fruits instead of snack bars, cookies, doughnuts or potato chips.
- Get active: You need to burn more calories than you consume. If you haven’t been active in a long while, start with the basics, like taking the stairs or parking further away so you can work in more steps every day before you work your way up gradually to more challenging activities. Remember, it’s not exercise if it’s easy.
What else can I do?
- Start slow –unreasonable expectations for weight loss can sabotage your weight loss efforts, so be realistic about how much weight to lose, and how long it will take. A healthy rate of weight loss is between 0.5 to 1kg per week, which is equivalent to consuming 500 to 1, 000 fewer calories daily.
- Seek help – get advice from a trainer or an active friend; it’s a courageous step because you’re making an effort to improve yourself, and by enlisting their help you’re also making a commitment.
- Get outdoors, if you can – WHO states that supportive environments and communities are fundamental in helping preventing obesity, and that people should have access to a healthy lifestyle, and be supported to make healthy choices. Depending on where you live, your neighbourhood may encourage or hinder your efforts, but you can increase your level of physical activity in many small ways, both indoors and outdoors.
- Get regular medical check-ups – obesity is linked to other chronic conditions like diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Regular screenings are an important step to early detection of diseases, to prevent deterioration of your health and quality of life.
 Centers for Disease Control, “The Health Effects of Overweight and Obesity”
 Centers for Disease Control, Overweight and Obesity: Causes and Consequences’
 What is Obesity? WebMD Healthy Eating & Diet
 World Health Organization, ‘Controlling the global obesity epidemic’
 World Health Organization factsheet on Obesity and Overweight
 Childhood Obesity Facts; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
 Jenkins KR, ‘Obesity’s effects on the onset of functional impairment among older adults’. Gerontologist 2004 Apr; 44(2):206-16
 WebMD Healthy Eating & Diet: Setting Realistic Weight Loss Goals
 BBC Health – Healthy Weight Loss Diet
 World Health Organization Fact File: 10 Facts on Obesity