If you want to be healthy, you don’t have time for the serious health consequences associated with being overweight. With a sharp rise in prevalence in recent years, obesity is perhaps the most talked about health condition in the United States… but why? More than a third of American adults are obese, and obesity contributes to several serious health conditions, including sleep apnea, osteoarthritis, abnormal menstruation, infertility, hypertension, heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, liver and gall bladder disease, and even certain types of cancer.
So what does it mean to be obese, anyway? Being overweight and being obese are both conditions in which an individual is considered to be above a healthy body weight for his or her height, measured by the body mass index, or BMI. However, some individuals who have a particularly high muscle mass, such as athletes, may fall into the category of overweight according to their BMI even though they do not have excess body fat. Obesity is directly related to the amount of extra body fat one has. Though the BMI is the most common way to identify obesity, more accurate measures of body fat and fat distribution include waist circumference (abdominal fat is a strong predictor for obesity and obesity-related diseases), waist-to-hip ratios, ultrasounds, and MRIs.
So who is at risk? Behavior, environment, and genetic factors all contribute to obesity, as your body weight results from your genes, metabolism, lifestyle, culture, and socioeconomic status. Though your genes may not determine whether or not you will be obese, they can affect how your body accumulates, stores, and uses fat. Socioeconomic status is tied to obesity as well: women with higher incomes and/or college degrees are less likely to be obese than women with lower incomes and less education. Lower incomes make access to affordable, healthy foods such as fruits and vegetables more difficult, and less healthy foods and beverages are often cheaper and easier to obtain.
Childhood obesity, which has almost tripled in the past 30 years, is also a large indicator for adult obesity and includes the same health risks as adult obesity. When children are overweight, obesity in adulthood will likely be more severe. Childhood obesity has many of the same causes as adult obesity: larger amounts of time spent watching TV and engaging with other media, such as video games, computers, and cell phones, instead of physical activity; a lack of healthy food and beverage options available for school meals; and exposure to advertisements for unhealthy foods, which impacts children’s ability to make healthy food choices.
So what can you do? Behavior and environment play a critical part in obesity and are the best areas for prevention and management. Try some of these tips to help prevent or manage obesity for yourself and your family:
- Try replacing sugary beverages and foods that are high in fat and sugar with water, fruits, and vegetables. If your child takes a packed lunch to school, take this into consideration.
- Try to make time for physical activity every day; going for a brisk 30-minute walk five days a week will help keep you in shape and boost your mood. If your child isn’t involved in after school activities or sports, get your child outside!
- Limit time in front of the screen to one to two hours a day for children, and encourage outdoor playtime.
- Share your family history with your doctor. He or she can help determine if you are at high risk for obesity and can help you come up with a plan to prevent or manage excess weight gain.
The best path to better health and wellness starts in your doctor’s office. If obesity is a concern for you or your family, make an appointment to discuss what you can do. To schedule an appointment with an IRMC Physician Family Medicine provider, please call 888-452-IRMC.