Obesity is a Disease that Reduces Life Expectancy

People jogging. (Dr. Noorali Bharwani)
People jogging. (Dr. Noorali Bharwani)

Obesity has been officially recognized as a disease by the American Medical Association. Obesity gives you grief with multiple medical problems. In Western countries, people are considered obese when their body mass index (BMI) exceeds 30 kg/m2. They are considered overweight if the BMI is 25-30 kg/m2. In simple terms you are either of normal weight, overweight (25-30 kg/m2) or obese (over 30 kg/m2). Ask your doctor where you stand.

It is no secret that most methods of treating obesity have failed. Some are good for a short duration but most people revert to their old habits. Habits are hard to get rid off. Habits that have been ingrained in your system since childhood.

Obesity is most commonly caused by a combination of excessive eating, lack of physical activity, and genetic susceptibility with hormonal or psychiatric disorders. Obesity increases the likelihood of various diseases, particularly heart disease, type-2 diabetes, obstructive sleep apnea, certain types of cancer, and osteoarthritis.

What is the solution? Is there a way to stop this epidemic of obesity, which is a disease, a medical condition?

A political solution is needed, just like the laws against smoking, says an article in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ November 18, 2014) titled, “A political prescription is needed to treat obesity” by Fletcher and Patrick.

Last year, World Health Organization (WHO) member states declared a target to stop the rise in obesity by 2025. A report from the Global Burden of Disease Study on global, regional and national trends in overweight and obesity has shown that obesity is still increasing worldwide, including in Canada, particularly among young people.

Governments must recognize that individual-level interventions, nutritional advice and activity guidance are not working, says the CMAJ editorial. Obesity will only be curbed by population-level measures supported by legislation. There is no disagreement among experts that physical activity is not enough to prevent or treat obesity, unless it is combined with some kind of dietary intervention.

The editorial says family and community interventions may work somewhat better than interventions aimed at individuals, but their implementation is patchy.

Bariatric surgery (surgery for obesity) has good results in the treatment of morbid obesity, but its use is always going to be limited and a last resort.

Drugs to suppress your appetite may work to some extent, but may have nasty adverse effects.

There are many nutritional guidelines, official and unofficial, and yet, despite all of this evidence, we have failed to make a real impact on the problem at the population level, says the editorial.

Experts agree there is no single solution to the problem of obesity. We should help people make better choices. People are addicted to sweet and high-fat foods that are inexpensive and easily available. We need to change our approach, says the article.

We should encourage school-based nutrition and activity, incentives for active commuting, restrict portion sizes and reduce the sale of sugar-sweetened beverages and other high-calorie, nutrient-poor food products.

The editorial concludes by saying, “Our government needs to act to restrict the sale of high-calorie and nutrient-poor food products or reduce the incentive to buy them through increasing their prices via taxation.”

Can you think of a law that will make us exercise more, eat less and eat healthy? If yes, then a Nobel Prize may be waiting for you.

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