Obesity—What Causes It?
“We are in the middle of an epidemic that may have profound health effects for our children. If society doesn’t act now to implement preventative measures, the increase of obesity will not stop.”—William J. Klish, professor of pediatrics.
THE tendency of some who have no problem with weight is to view overweight and obese people judgmentally and dismiss them as individuals with weak willpower and poor motivation. But is the problem that simple? Are obese people necessarily indolent individuals who avoid any physical exercise? Or in many cases are there other far-reaching causes that are more difficult to control?
Heredity? Environment? Or Both?
The book Food Fight states: “There has long been debate pitting genetics versus environment in the genesis of obesity.” What is meant by genetics in this context? Some hold to the theory that the human body naturally stores excess calories for possible future needs. The same source continues: “The genetics of obesity has been studied for decades. . . . Much research has now been done on human genes and obesity. Sophisticated techniques are being used to identify genes that predispose people to weight gain and to diseases like diabetes. In scientific parlance, 25 percent to 40 percent of the variability in population body weight can be explained by genes.” The book continues: “Given that obesity is usually blamed on personal failing, these numbers underscore the importance of biology, but still, 60 percent or more of the influence can be attributed to the environment.” This means that a major factor in obesity is still the person’s life-style. Does the individual take in more calories than he or she expends each day? Are the wrong kinds of food being consumed on a regular basis? Is time set aside each day for moderate exercise?
The Mayo Clinic explains the cause of obesity in simple terms: “Genes may set the stage for overweight or obesity, but your body weight ultimately is determined by your diet and physical activity. Over the long term, eating excess calories, leading a sedentary lifestyle, or a combination of both leads to obesity.” (Italics ours.) The same source continues: “Your heredity doesn’t mean you’re destined to be fat. . . . No matter what your genes say, it is ultimately your choices in nutrition and activity that will determine your weight.”
The weight-loss industry generates millions of dollars as desperate people seek to regain their former figure. Yet, what do experts say about these programs? “Obesity is very difficult to treat, and most people who lose weight do not keep it off,” says the book Food Fight. “The most optimistic estimates are that 25 percent [one in four] lose weight and maintain the loss, often requiring many tries.”
Dangers of Obesity
Obesity can lead to severe health problems. Dr. Scott Loren-Selco, a neurologist at the University of Southern California Medical Center, warns of the danger of Type 2 diabetes for even young people who are obese. (See Awake! of May 8, 2003.) He says: “We are seeing it all the time now, and believe me, it is frightening. I tell [obesity patients] that I could take them up to the diabetes ward and show them their possible future: the blind, the amputees, the endless number of people who are completely infirm because of type 2 [diabetes]—and who are all obese.” What is one contributing factor? “They can afford supersized burgers and fries—and so they get them,” says Loren-Selco. “There’s no one out there telling them it is wrong—certainly not the fast-food companies, and, frankly, certainly not most physicians, who still aren’t trained in nutrition.”
Dr. Edward Taub, a well-known writer on nutrition, states: “It has recently become more fashionable, and even politically correct, to believe that being overweight is just a normal and acceptable part of modern life. This is truly an amazing public relations feat accomplished by the economic interests that thrive on fattening us.”
Experts say that those who are “pear-shaped,” carrying extra fat at the hips, may be healthier than those who are “apple-shaped,” having fat distributed around the abdominal organs (especially if the waist exceeds 35 to 40 inches [90 cm to 100 cm]). Why? Because “fat in your abdomen increases your risk of high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, diabetes, stroke and certain types of cancer,” says the book Mayo Clinic on Healthy Weight. “If you have a pear shape—large hips, thighs and buttocks—your health risks are not as high.”
So, what is the solution for the millions of adults and children worldwide who are overweight and in danger of serious health complications? Is there an effective remedy?
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What is BMI? What does it tell you?
BMI (body mass index) is a height-to-weight ratio that can help to define whether a person is overweight or is already obese. According to the Mayo Clinic, a BMI rating of 18.5 to 24.9 is considered the healthiest. If your BMI is between 25 and 29.9, then you are overweight. Anything over a BMI of 30 is viewed as obese. How do you check out against the chart? Do you perhaps need to see your doctor for suggestions or confirmation of your status?
To calculate your BMI, multiply your weight in pounds by 705, divide the result by your height in inches, then divide that by your height in inches again. For example, if you weigh 200 pounds and are six feet tall, your BMI is 27 (200×705÷72÷72=27).
(For fully formatted text, see publication)
Healthy Overweight Obese
BMI 18.5-24.9 25-29.9 30 or more
Height Weight in pounds
4’10” 118 or less 119-142 143 or more
4’11” 123 or less 124-147 148 or more
5’0” 127 or less 128-152 153 or more
5’1” 131 or less 132-157 158 or more
5’2” 135 or less 136-163 164 or more
5’3” 140 or less 141-168 169 or more
5’4” 144 or less 145-173 174 or more
5’5” 149 or less 150-179 180 or more
5’6” 154 or less 155-185 186 or more
5’7” 158 or less 159-190 191 or more
5’8” 163 or less 164-196 197 or more
5’9” 168 or less 169-202 203 or more
5’10” 173 or less 174-208 209 or more
5’11” 178 or less 179-214 215 or more
6’0” 183 or less 184-220 221 or more
6’1” 188 or less 189-226 227 or more
6’2” 193 or less 194-232 233 or more
6’3” 199 or less 200-239 240 or more
Adapted from Mayo Clinic on Healthy Weight
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What is a calorie?
How is a dieter’s calorie defined? It is a standard measurement of heat energy. Thus, when you perspire, you use up calories, or heat energy. “A calorie is the amount of heat that it takes to raise the temperature of one kilogram [2.2 lbs] of water by exactly one degree centigrade.” (Balance Your Body, Balance Your Life) Each person’s daily calorie, or energy, needs are different, depending on such factors as height, weight, age, and activity level.
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You are sedentary if you
◼ Spend most of your day sitting—watching TV or at a desk or in a vehicle—in other words, not moving
◼ Seldom walk more than 100 yards [100 meters]
◼ Have a job that keeps you inactive
◼ Do not take between 20 and 30 minutes to exercise at least once a week
Based on Mayo Clinic on Healthy Weight