According to the World Health Organization (WHO), worldwide obesity has nearly tripled since 1975. Overall 650 million adults (18 years and above) about 13% of the world’s adult population were obese representing 11% of men and 15 of women in 2016.
While over 340 million children and adolescents aged 5-19 were overweight and obese in the same year 2016
The problem was once considered for high-income countries, but now overweight and obesity are on the rise in low and middle-income countries particularly in urban settings.
Globally there are more people who are obese than under weights except in the sub-Saharan region and Asia
The good news is that obesity is preventable and weight loss is almost achievable to anyone.
How is obesity caused?
Obesity does not happen overnight, it’s a gradual process that happens within a considerable period. In order to lose or control body weight, one should in the first place understand how is obesity caused.
Obesity is simply having excess body fats and is considered to be a medical condition of serious concern because it is associated with many negative health consequences such as diabetes, heart diseases, stroke and some types of cancer and is the leading cause of death worldwide.
The problem of obesity is increasing across the globe among all people of a different race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status but its distribution within a population can be uneven.
A person is classified to be obese if having a body mass index (BMI) of 30 and above. The causes of obesity are generally put into two major categories including exogenous and endogenous obesity.
Exogenous refers to obesity caused by outside factors such as overeating (binge eating) resulting in excess calories that are converted into fats, whereas endogenous obesity is triggered by inside factors such as a genetic malfunction or problem in hormonal production resulting to weight gain.
Many factors are known to be linked and cause obesity, therefore an effective weight loss approach should take into consideration all factors. The following are factors that are known to cause obesity:
Lack of physical activities (Sedentary lifestyle)
The advancement of technologies has resulted in many people becoming physically inactive as machines do much of the work.
People are spending many hours of the day performing their work while sitting, use escalators and elevators to move to another place, use cars to travel to and from homes, watch TV while at home, browsing on the Internet or playing computer games hence rarely do the physical activities like walking, cycling or exercises.
This in activeness consumes less energy from our body resulting in energy accumulation then energy imbalance: the energy intake (inform of the food we eat) exceeds the energy output (used energy). The excess energy that accumulated is then converted to fats for storage (the beginning of obesity)
The energy in our body is used in several ways including metabolism, physical activities, and many processes. However, many of these processes cannot be controlled by our will, it is only physical activities that we can control. Thus, when exercises become very important for losing weight.
To maintain normal body weight, it is recommended for adults to do moderate-intensity aerobic exercises such as fast walking or cycling for 30 minutes per day for 5 days a week. The exercises can be done in different sessions but it should add up to a total of 150 minutes per week.
In order to lose weight, you must exceed the above recommendation. Better if you to start slowly and gradually increase your exercises.
Poor dietary choices (extra calorie intake)
The energy we get from foods is measured in units called calorie also known as a kilocalorie (kcal). Individuals vary in the amount of energy needed due to different factors such as age, size, and level of activities. On average a physically active healthy man with normal weight will need 2,500 calories a day while a woman will need about 2,000 calories a day.
Although it may sound like a high value to achieve, it is very easy for an individual to achieve this amount of calories.
For instance, let’s say you are making bolognese spaghetti that contain: spaghetti, lean beef, tomatoes, carrots, vegetable stock, olive oil, and herbs and spices
- 280g of dried wholewheat spaghetti: 975k cal (4,075kJ)
- 200g of lean beef mince: 342k cal (1,429kJ)
- 2 cans of 400g of chopped tomatoes: 192k cal (802kJ)
- 1 onion: 55k cal (230kJ)
- 2 carrots: 70k cal (292kJ)
- A tablespoon of olive oil: 119k cal (497kJ)
The total calories of this recipe is 975 + 342 +192 + 55 + 70 + 119 = 1753 kcal (7,327kl).
When preparing a meal or choosing your food, take into consideration the sources and content of fats, quality of the calories, portion size and sugars.
Although it has not been clearly defined as to what really add up to high fats, studies have shown that unsaturated fats promote obesity especially those from plants.
Obviously, large portions of food will give you more calories as compared to a small portion. Sometimes we tend to be influenced by our friends to eat more or larger portions, the same may be true with the eating habits that we learned from parents.
Processed Sugar containing foods including fructose have a high level of calories that easily causes energy imbalances. Also, sugary beverages do not seem to provide adequate satiety resulting in binge eating and excess consumption of calories. However, fructose has a different metabolic process that may lead to more harmful health effects and the direct conversion of fats. In addition, they impair our appetite hormones leading to overeating.
Although genetic changes in humans occur too slowly to be responsible for the current obesity that only peaked a few decades ago. Studies have identified variants in several genes that may increase hunger and food intake leading to obesity.
Children have about 75% chance of inheriting obesity from their obese parent thus if both parents are obese. However, children have about 25 % to 50 % chance of inheriting obesity from their parents if one of the parents is obese.
Research has shown that a mother’s weight at the time of giving birth predicts a newborn’s weight, furthermore the weight of a newborn predict one’s likelihood of obesity.
So yes for some people obesity is born with them through their genetic makeup but these genetic conditions are rare. The good news is that despite all that everyone can still lose and control weight.
Below are some genetic disorders that have been identified to be associated with obesity including:
Cohen syndrome also known as Pepper syndrome is characterized mainly by intellectual disability. This disorder causes obesity to manifest in childhood or adolescence that occurs around the torso with the legs and arms remaining slender.
Prader-Willi syndrome: It is a complex genetic disorder that affects many parts of the body. The individual develops an insatiable appetite leading to overeating and obesity. In an infant, it is characterized by weak muscle tone and delayed development.
Bardet-Biedl syndrome; a rare genetic disorder characterized by abnormal weight gain that begins in childhood and continues throughout life.
Alstrom syndrome: a rare genetic condition in which obesity begins in early childhood although some may appear later in life.
Obesity from medications (Iatrogenic causes)
Contrary to many drugs that are prescribed to treat obesity, many drugs also cause weight gain due to their side effects, even though everyone may respond differently to these drugs.
Antidepressants medication also called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), works by boosting the feel-good chemicals in your brain, some of which also control your appetite and metabolism of calories. Depression itself can affect your appetite and eating habit but it is linked to obesity though the causal relationship is poorly understood.
Antipsychotic drugs have a direct effect on the brain, which causes your appetite to turn on and stay on leading to a craving for high-energy or sugary foods that affect metabolism and body weight.
The use of corticosteroids drugs for a long period may affect the metabolism resulting in feeling hungry, overeating and obesity.
Allergy drugs work by blocking histamine (a chemical responsible for symptoms of allergies) that may lead to weight gain.
Antihyperglycemic drugs control blood sugar levels and for people who are just initiated on treatment, it may be considered normal to gain some weight the time when the body is adjusting to them. But some of these drugs vacuum calories for fats cells.
There is no single psychological factor that causes obesity but there are psychological factors that are associated with obesity, this is due to a change in eating behavior, lack of physical activities and abuse of substances
Many theories exist that explain the relationship between obesity and mental health disorders. Some suggest that obesity can lead to common mental health disorders while other researchers found that people with mental disorders are prone to obesity.
For instance, one research concluded that obese people had a 55% increase risk of developing depression over time whereas depressed people had a 58% increase risk of becoming obese. Evidence has suggested that there is a bi-directional association between depression and obesity.
Psychological factors such as depression, anxiety, binge eating, and night eating syndrome correlate with the onset of obesity
These mental illnesses can trigger hunger hence forcing one to frequently eat than usual. In depression, for instance, people often use food to self-medicate their emotions and food is seen as nurturing. Depression can also lead to a reduction in physical activities.
Extreme stress can cause insomnia that leads people to stay awake at odd hours; these people are more likely to consume more food and get exposed to light thereby throwing off their natural internal mechanisms like metabolism.
Environment and socioeconomic factors
There are factors related to environment and socioeconomic status that are directly linked for causing obesity
Environmental factors such as pollution may disrupt the human endocrine system that controls body weight. These pollutants may come from numerous sources such as plastics, pharmaceuticals, benzopyrene, and pesticides.
Low economic status greatly determines the choices of food taken. People of low income are more likely to purchase processed foods than organic foods. Furthermore, these people do not have access to exercise facilities hence they are not active enough to engage in exercises.
The social factor can strongly influence eating behavior and weight management, people tend to eat foods eaten by their family and friends for a sense of acceptance and belonging, beliefs and habits of diets.
Final say on obesity
Obesity is a public health issue that is increasing, spreading rapidly all over the world and threatens public global health because it is associated with negative health conditions, which impose excessive financial implications and need to be addressed seriously.
Obesity is the result of an imbalance of energy (energy intake exceed energy output/ expenditure) whereby extra energy is converted into body fat for storage leading to weight gain then obesity over a considerable period.
Several factors are involved in causing obesity. Dietary intake monitoring, physical activities and behavior change are very critical for the development of obesity. Obese people are at high risk of developing life-threatening complications and diseases.
Several effective methods or techniques are available that can be used to reverse obesity with fewer or no side effects.