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Updated: Oct 8, 2019

According to latest research, there are now more people who are obese than those who are underweight, globally. This trend has been observed in every region over the world except parts of sub-Saharan Africa and Asia. In 2013, an estimated 2.1 billion adults were overweight, as compared with 857 million in 1980, a jump of almost 150 percent in 30 years. Of adults who are overweight, 31% are obese. Research indicates worldwide obesity has nearly tripled since 1975. In 2016, more than 1.9 billion adults, 18 years and older, were overweight. Of these over 650 million were considered obese. In younger people, 39% of adults aged 18 years and over were overweight in 2016, and 13% were obese.

Most of the world's population live in countries where overweight and obesity kills more people than being underweight. In some countries, lifespan is actually decreasing due in large part to health issues that arise from overeating. In 2016, 41 million children under the age of 5 were overweight or obese and over 340 million children and adolescents aged 5-19 were overweight or obese in 2016.

Obesity is preventable. Overweight and obesity are defined as abnormal or excessive fat accumulation though excessive food intake that impairs health. Body mass index (BMI) is a simple index of weight-for-height that is commonly used to classify overweight and obesity in adults. It is defined as a person's weight in kilograms divided by the square of their height in meters (kg/m2).

In adults, The World Health Organization (WHO) defines overweight as having a BMI greater than or equal to 25 and obesity as having a BMI greater than or equal to 30.

BMI provides the most useful population-level measure of overweight and obesity as it is the same for both sexes and for all ages of adults. However, it should be considered a rough guide because it may not correspond to the same degree of fatness in different individuals. For children, age needs to be considered when defining overweight and obesity.

I recently viewed the Ken Burns documentary on country music with images and film going back to the early 1900s. In all the crowd scenes recorded, there were no overweight people. Of course, back then there were no McDonalds; no I-Hops; no KFCs; no fast food outlets on every street corner. There were no pastry shops to speak of and certainly no supermarkets with bakery and pastry departments larger than the fresh produce departments. Also, there were no 24 television channels running constant fast food commercials.

Obesity is one the leading causes of many preventable illnesses:

• Cardiovascular diseases (mainly heart disease and stroke), which were the leading cause of death in 2012;

• Diabetes;

• Musculoskeletal disorders (especially osteoarthritis – a highly disabling degenerative disease of the joints);

• Some cancers including endometrial, breast, ovarian, prostate, liver, gallbladder, kidney, and colon.

Childhood obesity is associated with a higher chance of obesity, premature death and disability in adulthood. In addition to increased future risks, obese children experience breathing difficulties, increased risk of fractures, hypertension, early markers of cardiovascular disease, insulin resistance and psychological effects not to mention shorter life span.

What is the solution to obesity and it s resulting health issues in today's world? Weight loss and maintenance will help prevent obesity. Improving your eating habits and increasing physical activity play a vital role in preventing obesity.

Things you can do include:

  • Eat five to six servings of fruits and vegetables daily. A vegetable serving is one cup of raw vegetables or one-half cup of cooked vegetables or vegetable juice. A fruit serving is one piece of small to medium fresh fruit, one-half cup of canned or fresh fruit or fruit juice, or one-fourth cup of dried fruit.

  • Choose whole grain foods such as brown rice and whole wheat bread. Avoid highly processed foods such as fast foods made with refined white sugar, flour and saturated fat.

  • Weigh and measure food to gain an understanding of portion sizes. For example, a three-ounce serving of meat is the size of a deck of cards. Avoid super-sized menu items particularly at fast-food restaurants. You can achieve a lot just with proper choices in serving sizes.

  • Balance the food "checkbook." Eating more calories than you burn for energy will lead to weight gain.

  • Weigh yourself regularly.

  • Avoid foods that are high in "energy density" or that have a lot of calories in a small amount of food. For example, a large cheeseburger and a large order of fries may have almost 1,000 calories and 30 or more grams of fat. By ordering a grilled chicken sandwich or a plain hamburger and a small salad with low-fat dressing, you can avoid hundreds of calories and eliminate much of the fat intake. For dessert, have fruit or a piece of angel food cake rather than the "death by chocolate" special or three pieces of home-made pie.

  • Finally, work up a sweat: build up to at least 30 minutes or more of moderate-intensity activity on most, or preferably, all days of the week by walking a 15-minute mile, or weeding and hoeing the garden.

Unfortunately, there are no overnight fixes to obesity. Make opportunities during the day for even just 10 or 15 minutes of some calorie-burning activity, such as walking around the block or up and down a few flights of stairs at work. Again, every little bit helps.

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