- More 1 billion people are obese globally as of end-2022, according to a World Health Organisation (WHO) report.
- Global prevalence nearly “tripled” between 1975 and 2016, according to worldobesity.org.
- In the last two decades, obesity rates have increased in nearly all age groups across the world.
Dubai: Obesity is one of the biggest public health issues of our day. The situation is dire, and leads to hundreds of billions dollars in medical bills. Yet it's not a hopeless situation.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) reports that 268 million school-age children and 2.7 billion adults are expected to be overweight or obese by 2025 — and 167 million individuals would be "less healthy" as a result.
How did it come to pass? In a word: overabundance. More specifically, overabundance of unhealthy food and the hyper-promotion of unhealthy lifestyle.
How to reverse the trend? It’s a long shot. The WHO has outlined four critical steps to curb the obesity epidemic. “The key to preventing obesity is to act early... countries need to work together to create a better food environment so that everyone can access and afford a healthy diet,” the agency stated in a March 2023 report.
It doesn't happen overnight
Obesity does not happen overnight. Rather, it's acquired over a number of years of unhealthy lifestyle choices, says a nutrition expert. “We can draw the correlation that obesity may result from accumulated behaviours,” Dr. Maha Shahin, Clinical Nutrition Consultant, Allurion Dietician Board told Gulf News.
“For example, children who are overweight before puberty may also experience this in early adulthood. Additionally, childhood obesity is strongly associated with risk factors for type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, school failure, and low self-esteem,” added Shahin, who is also an obstetrics and gynaecology consultant.
“I would say it’s the overabundance of our generation, especially in terms of carb intake, that’s behind the rise in global obesity — bad eating habits, fast food, foods rich in trans-fats, a high-carb diet, large portions, sugary soft drinks, and lack of physical activity, in general, are causes of obesity that have accumulated over the years.”
The flipside is also true, i.e. fighting and reversing obesity needs daily devotion stretching for months, if not years. It starts with knowing the basics, your right body mass index (BMI), for example.
• First-degree obesity ranges from 30 to 35 kg/m2.
• Second-degree obesity is between 35 to 40 kg/m2
• Morbid obesity is above 40 kg/m2.
4 weapons you can use against obesity
In order to arrest the growth in global diabetes epidemic, the world needs a good set of countermeasures, according to the WHO and nutrition experts.
#1. Know — take personal responsibility
Raising awareness about proper lifestyle changes through healthy diet habits, educating families to start teaching their children about the importance of health and maintaining it, and spreading awareness at school about the importance of healthy food and physical activity are some of the activities suggested by the WHO.
Priority drives include implementing early care and education policies and family healthy weight programs. That's just the “push” part, i.e. top-down campaigns.
For individuals — that is, you and me — the “pull” part is also important, i.e. actively engaging seeking the right information and living a healthy choices, say experts.
The key lies in knowing you're not an exemption, and understanding the importance of a balanced diet, physical activity and actually adhering to it.
“That includes all macronutrients as per the percentage in your daily intake of good carbohydrates and protein. Know the importance of daily fruits and vegetables and that eating three small meals and a snack daily is much better than eating one large meal,” she said.
It is no coincidence that fast food and foods high in trans fats have become widespread as the obesity epidemic has grown. These foods are significant causes of insulin resistance.
It is also important to enlighten consumers about food labeling — being aware of what to eat and avoid is extremely helpful. “The portion size of food is also important because the increase in portion size leads to increased energy intake and, eventually, obesity,” she said.
#2. Target: hit a healthy weight
“Losing weight is a transformative journey that can positively impact your health, well-being, and those around you. This is through a combination of diet and exercise,” Dr Shahin said.
It is important to remember, however, that everyone's experience will be unique and personal, she pointed out. “Factors such as your health history, lifestyle and biology all play a role in determining what weight loss strategies will work best.”
“It is no coincidence that fast food and foods high in trans fats have become widespread as the obesity epidemic has grown. These foods are significant causes of insulin resistance.
“And when the consumption rate increases, the body experiences consequent changes and increases weight. Therefore, moderating fast food among all age groups, starting young, is one of the biggest challenges. For this reason, starting mindfulness at school from an early age and parental education is highly beneficial.”
$190bEconomic cost of obesity-related health issues annually, as per Harvard School of Public Health
• It affects almost every age group and socioeconomic class — and it poses a severe threat to both industrialised and emerging nations, according to the WHO.
• It has serious social and psychological implications.
• Treating obesity and obesity-related conditions costs billions of dollars a year.
• Harvard School of Public Health estimates that the US spends $190 billion on obesity-related health issues annually.
#3. Listen to your body
“It is impotant to train people to listen to their bodies for signs of satiety and stop eating after feeling full. Secondly, try to stop ‘emotional eating’.
"Excessive consumption of soft drinks has been associated with metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular risk, and overall energy intake from sweetened beverages, increasing average daily calorie intake and leading to weight gain. Avoid sweetened drinks, replace them with unsweetened fresh juices, and increase your daily water intake," she said.
"One solution: switching to healthy eating habits, and encouraging homemade food and healthy grocery shopping choices."
#4. Target: 150 minutes of physical activity per week
Decreased physical activity amongst all age groups is a causal factor for obesity.
Dr Shahin stressed on the importance of exercise and physical activity and participation in moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity for 150 minutes — approximately two and a half hours — each week.
This helps reduce the risk of ischaemic heart disease, diabetes, and has positive effects on the body and mental health by lowering stress reactions, anxiety, and depression.
Personalised weight loss programs can be a game-changer for people who want to lose weight. Unlike cookie-cutter approaches, they provide individualised support and strategies for each person's unique needs and challenges.
“A unique, multi-layered and tailored approach is key to my patients' success in weight loss," said Dr Shahin. "For example, the innovative Allurion Balloon is revolutionary in gastric balloons, requiring no surgery, anaesthesia, or endoscopy.
"As the balloon works to kickstart your weight loss, the holistic approach of the entire Allurion Program ensures that you are constantly supported by our multidisciplinary team. Making lasting lifestyle changes is the key to long-term weight loss and our patients' success.”
A 2020 study published Oxford University Press assessed — for the first time — the extent of unhealthy food ads targeted at children (3–11 years) on the six most-watched television (TV) channels in Guatemala.
In the Latin American country, non-permitted food ads were six times more likely, either on weekdays or weekends, for all programme and channel categories compared with permitted food ads. The study cited the need for greater regulation of TV food ads.