Ending Obesity: How To Tip the Scales in Your Favour
Obesity is a sad fact of life in North America — so much so that it has been called a “western disease.”
It’s also a disease of inequality—obesity disproportionately affects different communities—including communities of color, communities with high levels of poverty, and adults with lower education levels.
Exogenous obesity is caused by eating more food than the body needs. Endogenous obesity is caused by genetic malfunctions or problems in the body’s hormone production that cause weight gain.
Obese people are at risk for a host of life-threatening diseases, from diabetes and increased cancer risk to breathing problems, heart issues, and stroke. And carrying excess weight places great strain on our joints, leading to diseases such as arthritis.
“Overweight” is sometimes interchanged with “obese.” But there is a difference. Being overweight means you may be healthy, but are carrying excess pounds. Obese people are heavier than overweight people. Obese people have a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 30 or higher, and overweight people have a BMI of 25 to 29. This table can help you calculate your Body Mass Index.
SOME WEIGHTY STATISTICS IN OVERWEIGHT AMERICA
Researchers from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provided startling statistics on obesity from 2015-2016. This study from the CDC examined key findings from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. It found that nearly 40 percent of adults were obese during this period. And not to put a pun on it, but those numbers are huge… and getting bigger.
Statistics from this study, and concurrent studies, indicate that the prevalence of obesity among adults aged 40–59 remains higher than among adults aged 20–39. There is no significant difference between adults aged 60 and over and younger age groups. Among both men and women, obesity followed a similar pattern by age.
Obesity among U.S. youth was 18.5% in 2015–2016. The overall prevalence of childhood obesity had appeared to be declining, but current data indicates that the decline now appears to be reversing and childhood obesity is increasing again—a concerning trend.
The trend, according to the American Cancer Society, is that as of April 2018 obesity rates are still rising in the US. As per the latest data from the Journal of the American Medical Association, public health experts are alarmed both by the continuing rise in obesity, especially among adults, and by the fact that it’s happening despite efforts to educate people on exercise and proper diet. In fact, data on obesity rates around the world note that for the first time in history, obese people may outnumber those who are underweight.
DOES “BIG FOOD” HELP CREATE BIG WAISTLINES?
The obesity situation is complicated, and made more so by the fact that major “big food” companies profit from obesity. They promote “foods” high in fat, sugar, and sodium that contain little nutrition for their many calories. In a 2012 analysis, according to the New York Times, researchers found the world’s ten largest food companies control approximately 15% of food sales. This is concerning, given: three-fourths of food sales worldwide are processed foods, with the largest manufacturers holding over a third of the global market. With this power structure, it could easily lead to a majority of the world population being unhealthily overweight—a global crisis.
Obesity: The new American export.
As western consumers become more food-savvy, these companies are expanding to Latin America, Africa, and Asia. In these regions, it is believed that processed food sales are contributing to a new kind of malnutrition—one all too common in the US. In this syndrome, people are overweight yet undernourished. This has been called a “war between two food systems,” the traditional diet of real food produced by farmers versus the producers of ultra-processed foods.
Another concern for health experts, according to this article from The New York Times, is that the food industry is “pushing back” against public health measures designed to combat obesity. For example, in recent NAFTA negotiations, the Trump administration proposed rules (favored by major food companies) that would limit the ability of the US, Mexico, and Canada to require labels on packaged foods warning about health risks of high-sugar, high-fat foods.
WHAT IS AN “OBESOGEN”?
Obesogens are chemicals that, when consumed, may also play a role in weight gain and obesity. Some chemicals allowed in food in the US are classified as “endocrine disruptors”, which means they disrupt normal metabolic processes. Emerging scientific evidence indicates a strong link between eating foods containing endocrine disruptors and weight gain.
Glyphosate is a common agricultural chemical that has been linked to cancer and is believed by some researchers to be an obesogen. One theory of how this occurs is, because glyphosate has bactericidal properties, the chemical shifts the balance of power in our gut bacteria away from the healthy bacteria we need—those that feed the body’s enzymes and mitochondria—towards pathogenic bacteria that are resistant to glyphosate and may feed on it.
SUGAR-COATING THE OBESITY EPIDEMIC
If ubiquitous, ever-present marketing of unhealthy foods and beverages and added agricultural chemicals are not enough for you, there is always sugar—particularly the
highly refined sugars found in processed foods such as high fructose corn syrup. Sugar is literally everywhere in North America.
Concerned about sugars added to packaged foods? Try this Sugar Overload Calculator to see how quickly “added sugars” really add up.
“Low fat” and “sugar-free” foods are not an answer either. In fact, these probably help you gain weight, not lose it. Research has proven that artificial sweeteners are linked to weight gain and possibly cancer. And studies have shown that “low fat” or “no fat” diets are linked to weight gain.
TIP THE SCALES IN YOUR FAVOR WITH A HEALTHY DIET AND EXERCISE
A healthy diet of whole, mostly unprocessed foods, especially a plant-based diet, getting enough rest and regular exercise are still the most important, and successful ways to combat obesity. Avoiding suspected obesogens can’t hurt and supports sustainable agriculture—a win-win for people and planet.
There are also gains made in combating obesity. Strong state policies ensure improved access to healthy food and increase physical activity in populations. Good state policies also increase education on healthy weight management—all essential to successfully combat obesity.
Education is an important part of combatting any epidemic. “Fed Up”, narrated by journalist Katie Couric, is one good resource on the misinformation provided by the processed food industry, and on educating children and adults to counter it.
Supplements that support the immune and hormone metabolisms are also a good idea to add to your vitamin and nutrition regimen.
As always, when undertaking any exercise or weight loss program, consulting a doctor is always a good first step. Wishing you the best of health!