What Is Obesity and How To Prevent It
Obesity is a major public health issue that is prevalent throughout the world. Being overweight or obese is a result of an energy imbalance involving excessive calorie consumption and/or inadequate physical activity. When this happens, excess body fat accumulates to an extent that endangers your health, increasing your risk of diabetes, heart disease, stroke, arthritis and some cancers.
To be considered obese, an adult must have a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher. Obesity can develop at any age and in either sex, as it is caused by a combination of both genetic and environmental factors, as well as diet and lifestyle. Keep reading to learn the risks of obesity and how to combat this disease with a healthier lifestyle.
Risk Factors for Obesity
Obesity can develop for many reasons. Family history plays a major role and may be the strongest factor in predisposing a person to obesity, since genetics are not something you can change. Physiological factors such as depression or low self-esteem, as well as social factors such as discrimination or social stigmatization, often lead to binge eating and negative emotional eating, which can contribute to obesity.
The environment around you is also a major determinant of obesity. Society often promotes obesity with its modes of transportation and modern amenities, the popularity of sedentary leisure activities and its penchant for high-calorie food intake. These factors have led to a modern lifestyle with low physical activity. Today, much time is spent sitting behind screens, riding in cars or using elevators instead of taking the stairs, decreasing physical activity while increasing sedentary activities. Additionally, food industry marketing in mass media often aggressively promotes unhealthy foods which, along with the tendency of restaurants to serve large portions, encourages high calorie consumption.
Health Risks Associated With Obesity
Obesity is recognized as a serious public health issue. It also poses a significant global problem due to its rapid increase and association with other chronic diseases. Obesity reduces both length and quality of life. Health issues associated with obesity include:
- Type 2 diabetes
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease
- Certain cancers (e.g., breast, colon and endometrial)
- Gallbladder disease
- Fatty liver disease
- High cholesterol
- Sleep apnea and other breathing problems
- Chronic lower back pain
- Osteoarthritis, particularly of the knees
Combating the Problem
Adopting a healthier lifestyle is one of the first steps to prevention. There are no special skills or training required to be physically active; simply going for a walk is a great way to stay active. Many forms of physical activity can also be social, so selecting activities that you enjoy and incorporating them into your daily life can lead to spending more time with family and friends or even developing new relationships.
Community-based strategies have become a popular way to prevent obesity. They involve implementing solutions to improve social and physical environments to promote healthy eating and physical activity. Enhancing social support and self-efficacy can improve quality of life for many communities.
Schools, childcare facilities and workplaces are where people spend most of their time, so they are important settings for the implementation of policies and programmatic initiatives and the dissemination of educational materials. Workplaces and schools can incorporate wellness breaks for students to engage in activities that promote health and well-being. Additionally, communities can increase their reach at events such as walkathons, exercise classes, community fitness events and training.
Healthier Lifestyle Changes
Fruits and vegetables are essential to a healthier lifestyle, but the limited availability of affordable healthy foods often leads people to turn to unhealthy fast-food chains. Fruits and vegetables are important because they are sources of vitamins, minerals, fiber and antioxidants. Many fruits and vegetables also contain other naturally occurring substances that may help protect you from chronic diseases.
Replacing high-calorie foods with healthier choices like fruits and vegetables is one weight loss strategy that can help combat the obesity epidemic. Physical activity is also an important factor in maintaining weight. Being physically active not only helps maintain weight but also plays a crucial role in reducing health risks associated with obesity. Walking for 30 minutes a day is a great way to start being active.
Changing Unhealthy Eating Habits
There are several significant steps you can take when it comes to changing unhealthy habits. Some eating habits can be good (for example, eating fruit to satisfy a sugar craving), but others are not (for example, drinking a sugary drink instead of water). However, it is never too late for someone to improve their unhealthy eating habits.
There are several things that someone can do to help change their eating habits, including:
- Keeping a food diary – Create a list of things you consume daily, noting the time of day and how you were feeling. This will help you keep track of your good and bad habits.
- Replacing unhealthy habits with good habits – If you crave a sweet dessert after dinner, instead of having a piece of chocolate cake, replace the cake with some fruit or yogurt.
- Meal planning or meal prepping – This is a great way to make sure you are getting a well-balanced, healthy meal. If meals are already planned and prepped, there is less chance that you will stop at a restaurant to grab a quick but unhealthy meal.
- Physical activity – Try to incorporate at least 30 minutes of physical activity into your day, whether it is walking, jogging or running.
Creating a maintainable meal plan and adding physical activity to your schedule will help manage weight and improve health. This is not something that can be done overnight. Start with small dietary changes and slowly incorporate physical activity into your routine over time to build your way to a better health outcome.
Partnerships, Coalitions and Alliances
Obesity prevention is a goal of national public health policy and will require the combined efforts of many stakeholders, both public and private. A combination of sound, effective actions is needed at global, regional, national and local levels, along with close monitoring and evaluation of their impact. Popular partners who share this goal include:
- American Obesity Treatment Association (AOTA) – The AOTA encourages unity and improvement in the lives of those affected by obesity, especially for children and adolecents.1
- World Health Organization (WHO) – The WHO promotes healthy diets and adequate physical activity as key factors in the promotion and maintenance of good health through their Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health. This strategy aims to promote and protect health through healthy eating and physical activity based on four objectives: reduce risk factors for chronic diseases; increase awareness of a healthier lifestyle; develop, strengthen and implement action plans/solutions; and monitor science and support research on diet and physical activity.2
- Center for Disease Control and Prevention Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity (DNPAO) – The CDC works to reduce obesity and obesity-related conditions through their Nutrition and Physical Activity and Obesity (NPAO) Cooperative Agreement. There are currently 23 funded states that help coordinate statewide efforts to address obesity.3
- Media campaigns – Media advertising can promote positive changes in behavior, such as eating more fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and can raise public awareness of solutions. Mass-media motivational campaigns can encourage people to walk, jog, bicycle and engage in other enjoyable activities that expend energy to reduce obesity.
- State health departments – State health departments promote healthy behaviors, such as healthy eating and physical activity, to improve health outcomes by making information and resources available for people to gain understanding of available prevention programs and services in addition to websites providing extra educational information.
Grand Canyon University’s College of Nursing and Health Care Professions is committed to helping students take control of their health and learn how best to deal with the diseases of today. GCU offers a variety of undergraduate healthcare degrees and online nursing programs that help students learn how to promote a healthy lifestyle. Click the Request Info button at the top of your page to learn more about your options at GCU.
1American Obesity Treatment Association, Welcome to AOTA in May 2022
3Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity in March 2022
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.
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