25 December 2019 (Wall Street International)* — Obesity and overweight were once conditions that concerned only high-income families in developed countries. But, sooner than later, these also became the problem among the middle and low-income groups in developing nations. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the number of obese and overweight worldwide has increased almost triple times since 1975.

The data gathered in 2016 showed that there were more than 1.9 billion adults who were overweight. Of this figure, 650 million were listed obese. Sadder still is that obesity and overweight cases are hitting not only adults.

Studies found that in many areas there are children as young as five years old who are getting overweight or obese. In fact, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported that in 2019 there were already around 38.2 million children worldwide under 5 years who are obese. If left unchecked this number is likely to continue in the next few years. This is alarming because these cases lead to serious diseases and health conditions.

Causes of obesity and overweight

There are significant factors directly associated with too much weight gain. Some medical issues and physical problems result in obesity. But health expert Dr. Joel Fuhrman sums up the core of it all. He says obesity and overweight are caused by an imbalance between calories consumed and calories expended.

This means that people eat more energy-dense foods that are high in fat while engaging in less physical activity. Dr. Fuhrman essentially points to poor eating habits and sedentary lifestyles as major contributing factors to weight gain.

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Parents tend to overstuff their children with just any food | Image from Wall Street International

Poor eating habits refer to not having enough healthy foods, or consuming too much high-fat and low-fiber foods. Under or over-eating is also another form of poor eating habits. There is also a prevalent cultural belief in some developing countries that “a fat baby is a healthy baby”. Because of this, parents tend to overstuff their children with just any food.

Added to this fact is that lower-income families contend themselves within what their meager budget can buy. Almost always, they end up buying nutrient-deficient foods. Meanwhile, high-income families tend to feed their children with whatever they fancy about. Most often, their diet includes processed foods, chips, and any food and drinks advertised on television.

Working adults, on the other hand, who constantly rush by on automatic mode on workdays have no choice but to grab anything to fill their stomachs. And the most convenient fare to reach for are the low-fiber and high-fat foods.

Aside from poor eating habits, lack of physical activity or sedentary lifestyle is another major factor that leads to overweight and obesity. It is caused by many factors. A wide variety of television programs and addictive computer games are major contributing factors to this. These electronic devices effectively keep many children and teenagers sitting for long hours.

Another factor is the lack of space in urban residences. And so instead of playing outdoors, they turn to indoor entertainment.

Meanwhile, the sedentary nature of some work keeps many working adults from exercising. Plus the convenient mode of transport using cars and trains is hassle-free compared to walking or cycling to and from work.

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Training young children to engage in physical activities | Image from Wall Street International

Impact of obesity and overweight

Obesity and overweight lead to more serious health conditions such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, cancer, and premature death. Ironically, these issues are among the easiest medical conditions to recognize but difficult to treat. In children and adolescents, these health issues are linked with a higher risk of emotional problems.

Overweight or obese teenagers are likely to develop anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder. They also have lower self-esteem and at risk of getting depressed.

But the good news is that overweight and obesity problems are preventable. The families of overweight children must first and foremost, establish a strong support system. It encourages them to move forward to achieve normal body weight.

And, reflecting on what Dr. Fuhrman advises, a change in diet and doing more physical activities are the key to maintaining a normal weight. People should consider consuming more plant-based foods than meat-based and processed foods. Green leafy vegetables, fruits, grains, beans, and nuts are nutrient-rich foods that effectively prevent people from acquiring diabetes, cancer, and other serious diseases.

By turning to a healthy lifestyle, societies will see a reduced, or even zero, case of overweight or obese-related deaths. It is even best to now start training young children to eat healthy foods and engage in physical activities.