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Obesity in The Western World

Obesity has reached epidemic proportions; both, in the USA and in Western Europe. Being grossly overweight has been linked to an increased risk of cancer and heart disease, and several other serious conditions. Recent new research has now indicated that there is also a, previously unknown, risk of dementia in later life for people who are very overweight.

Obesity and Disease

The research found that some hospital patients, who were still under seventy years old, when they were admitted to hospital, carried a higher risk of developing dementia than those patients who were not considered to be obese, when they were first admitted.

Over thirty percent of all Americans are now considered to be obese; and, with the advent of the twenty first century, some figures suggest that the United States of America has the highest percentage of obese people in the world: these are alarming figures.

The serious problem of obesity leads to more than 120,000 deaths every year in the United States; and, a person who is obese in the U S is facing an approximate figure of an extra $1,500 more in medical expenses each year! Unfortunately, although obesity is an entirely preventable disease; the US health authorities do not anticipate any lessening of these figures in the foreseeable future, and the situation in Western Europe is no better.

A study, which was published in the United Kingdom's "Post Graduate Medical Journal", analysed anonymous data recorded from almost half a million people, who were considered to be obese, and a non obese control group. The study found that obese people aged between thirty and forty years old, were three and a half times more likely to develop dementia than those of the same age, in the control group.

In 1998, in the US, both the National Institute of Health, and the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, brought US health indicator definitions into line with the World health Organization (WHO) guidelines. They lowered the previous American 'Normal' standard for BMI, from 27.8 to a new normal for BMI of 25; and, by doing so they redefined around twenty nine million, previously 'healthy' Americans to now being overweight.

The United States government conducted a National Health and Nutrition survey, in 1994; and, the result was that almost 60% of American men and almost 50% of women had BMI's of over 25. It was further found that 2% of the women and 4% of the men had a BMI of over 40 - they were termed to be 'morbidly obese'.

A more recent survey, carried out in 2007, showed an upward trend in obesity; this new study showed a continuation of the increase in American BMI's. In 2007, it was found that 63% of all Americans are now considered to be overweight or obese, with 26% now having a BMI of over 30 or more: putting them firmly in the obese category

Obesity in Children

Like me, you may have started to notice that there seems to be more fat kids around than there used to be, years ago; yes, it's a sad fact, even some of our children are now becoming obese: and it's our fault because it is us who controls their diets. There is a simple formula for calculating whether we, or our children are clinically obese, or not; and, it may be useful to know how to check this for ourselves.

Every now and again, we should all, check something that is known as our body mass index (BMI). Our body mass index (BMI) is a measure of our body fat based on height and weight, and it applies to both adult men and women: see how to do this below.

How To Calculate Your BMI

Use a pencil, paper and calculator to perform the following BMI calculation.

Measure your height in inches and square the number. (In other words, multiply the number of inches by the same number of inches.)

Divide your weight in pounds by the second figure. (The second figure is your height in inches, squared.)

Multiply that answer by the conversion factor of 703 if you used inches and pounds. Skip this if you used meters and kilograms. The answer you get is your body mass, your BMI.

Judge your personal BMI result against the following scale:

  • A BMI of less than 18 means you are under weight.
  • A BMI of less than 18.5 indicates you are thin for your height.A BMI between 18.6 and 24.9 indicates you are at a healthy weight.
  • A BMI between 25 and 29.9 suggests you are overweight for your height.
  • A BMI of 30 or greater indicates obesity. If you are obese, you should consider consulting a doctor or losing weight.

Obesity attitudes

Recently, I overheard a woman saying, 'I was going to be good this week and cut down on what I eat, but then I look around me, and I wonder why should I be worried about my weight'. Whilst I don't agree with what she said; the truth is, I could definitely understand her viewpoint. Nowadays, if you look anywhere, you will find a sizeable proportion of ordinary everyday people who would be considered overweight, or clinically obese.

Overweight teenage couple

Apart from the anecdotal evidence, medical research studies have shown an enormous increase in obesity over the past six decades. Today, approximately one third of all American residents are clinically obese, and high obesity rates are also found in the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia. It is obvious that obesity is now an epidemic all over the Western world.

The increase in obesity in our Western societies can be explained in several ways. First of all, some people are digging their graves with their teeth, by increasing their calorie intake way above the recommended 2000 - 2500 calories per day. Secondly, studies have suggested that the increase in obesity could be influenced by the rise in portion sizes and increased, around the clock, snacking. This increase is not very surprising as some fast food restaurants have now introduced lots of increasingly unhealthy alternatives to their usual fare.

Obesity in Society

A prime example of this practice, are the pizza parlours; who have now added a huge range of different sauces, hot dogs, or even burgers in the crust of their pizzas: as if pizzas were not unhealthy enough! Lots of people are also being inundated with fast-food advertising on radio and television. Additionally, in the past week, I have received emails and leaflets from national chain, and local fast-food outlets as well as viewing adverts on the television and the Internet. With the skilful powers of persuasion that the clever marketers possess, this is likely further increase calorie intake and obesity levels.

The risk of obesity is further heightened if this extra calorie intake is coupled with a general lack of physical activity. Studies have noted that many people, mainly children, are more likely to spend more time watching television, playing video games or surfing the net instead of participating in exercise, healthy sports or other physical activities.

This situation is particularly noticeable on Christmas Day, as there seems to be fewer children riding their bicycles on Christmas Day, compared to ten or twenty years ago.

Overweight Boy and Girl

More children are being given laptops, games consoles and other electronic wizardry, which do not exactly encourage physical activity! This lack of physical activity on top of the increasing calorie intake is a sure-fire recipe for obesity and a general decline of the health of our populations.

Weight issues are considered to be more common nowadays, but that doesn't mean that the implications of obesity are any less serious. Obesity has very obvious adverse consequences, with diseases such as diabetes, cancer, decreased life expectancy, low self esteem, depression and anxiety. Obesity also adversely affects the economy, due to the substantial annual loss of working hours, and medical costs being associated with the illness. It is now become imperative to do something about the obesity situation due to the severe physical health, mental health, and economic consequences.

How to maintain a healthy weight

One way to achieve, and maintain, a healthy weight is by diet. When I talk about dieting, I mean that you should change your eating habits and keep to a healthy diet: however, please do not use a crash diet to lose weight. Many people consider crash diets as an ideal way to lose a lot of weight in a relatively short period of time. This idea seems appealing to many people. However, there are so many negative consequences of crash dieting, including diabetes, lower levels of wellbeing, and eating disorders.

Persons who use these crash diets also tend to have higher levels of weight fluctuation. These dieters lose a lot of weight initially, but once they return to their previous eating habits, their weight increases substantially due to an increase in food cravings. In my view, dieting is an odd phenomenon. In effect, you are combating overeating with under-eating, and therefore never learning how to maintain a healthy diet.

Maintaining a healthy diet is considerably easier to manage compared to 'surviving' a crash diet. Eat stuff that is high in fibre, stuff that makes you feel full.

A Healthy Meal

To maintain a healthy diet, you should eat five portions of fruit and vegetables a day, avoid foods that are high in fat or sugar, eat whole grain foods, and avoid eating more than 2500 calories per day. By doing so, you are not starving yourself in the name of losing weight. You might not lose weight as quickly, via a healthy diet, but slow and steady wins the day, and you will keep your health (and sanity!) intact.

Obesity and exercise

Physical exercise is also a very necessary part of combating obesity; don't allow yourself to become a 'couch potato'. You don't have to run a marathon every day to lose weight though! Doctors recommend participating in moderate-intensity exercise (such as light running or vigorous walking) for thirty minutes most (if not all) days of the week. However, you can also create opportunities for exercise throughout the day, such as walking to the bus stop instead of driving your car to work, or to walk up the stairs instead of taking the lift.

You can even make it into a fun thing by following the example of the blonde girl in this video. Apparently, she works in a shopping mall and can be seen, regularly, walking up the "down" escalator: much to the amusement of everyone else! :-)

Even these small amounts of exercise add up. Whilst it is true that higher levels of poverty are associated with higher levels of obesity. However, exercise is far from impossible, even for those on a limited purse-string. In fact, the notorious British prisoner, Charles Bronson, (No, not the film star of Hollywood fame. :-)) wrote a book about conducting an exercise regime within the confines of his prison cell. If he can do it, exercise is must be possible for any able-bodied person.

You do not need expensive equipment or gym memberships to maintain an active lifestyle. You can participate in aerobic exercises (such as running or hiking), anaerobic exercises (such as weight lifting) and flexibility exercises (such as yoga) even with limited funds. So, if you think that you cannot afford to exercise, you are sadly mistaken and just making excuses!

Family Attitudes to Obesity

It is also important to be a good role model to those around you; especially children. If you can promote a healthy lifestyle within your family, they will be more likely to follow your example, and maintain a healthy lifestyle as well. Studies have showed that after overweight fathers had attended a healthy lifestyle intervention session, both the fathers and their children improved their general health.

Overweight women

Therefore, providing health information appears to provide benefits to both parents and their children. Parents can become a good health role model by encouraging their children to participate in more physical activities. Another good idea is for parents to keep a supply of low-fat, healthy snacks stored in the cupboards instead of the more unhealthy snacks found in many kitchens. Being a good health role model for children is particularly important as there has also been a substantial increase in overweight and obese children throughout the Western world.

Obesity has become an enormous problem in the Western world and, as discussed, it has adverse mental and physical consequences, as well as a negative influence on the economy. However, this situation is not helpless. The high prevalence of obesity can be limited by promoting and maintaining a healthy lifestyle, regardless of your socio-economic background. By promoting a healthy lifestyle to your familial and social groups, these practices can be transferred on, from generation to generation, which should help lower the obesity level over time. Remember, reducing the obesity level starts with the individual, and that's you!

If you found this article informative and would like to discuss it, or ask any questions on this, or any other health topic; or, ask for weight loss advice, pleasedrop me a loine in the comments box, below, and I will get back to you straight away.