Obesity as one commentator says, is not just a "matter of aesthetics" but has become a major public health problem in the United States. Similarly, Federal health officials have categorically stated that "the growing prevalence of obesity in the United States represents a significant health threat to millions of Americans." Obesity is seen by health officials in a serious light and is very often described as an "epidemic' that has to be vigorously controlled.
Jeffrey Koplan, director of the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) recently stated that "the continuing epidemic of obesity is a critical public health concern" and "as a nation, we need to respond as vigorously to this epidemic as we do to an infectious disease epidemic."
These remarks are not alarmist but are supported by solid statistics that point to an increase of nearly 60% in the number of people who can be considered to be obese nationally. These facts are echoed by "The simple fact...that more people die in the United States of too much food than of too little' says Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman.
Some 97-million American adults and 10-million American children are overweight or obese, and the problem is "literally growing before our eyes."
It is estimated that physical inactivity and being overweight account for more than 300,000 premature deaths annually in the U.S., a figure that is second only to tobacco-related deaths.
Statistics emphasize that the problem of obesity is having a profound effect on the public health profile, with one of the central areas of concern being the increase in obesity among children. "Federal health agencies say that 55% of American adults, 13.6% of school children and 8% of pre-school children are overweight -- 107-million people in all."
There is a growing sense of concern among health professionals about the alarming rate of the increase in the number of cases of obesity.
Obesity rates in the United States have skyrocketed in the last 30 years. Among adults, obesity rates have more than doubled from the early 1970s to the late 1990s. Over the same period, children's obesity rates nearly tripled. These alarming trends have received a great deal of attention in recent years.
2. Obesity: Definition and Causes
In simple terms obesity is commonly defined as a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher. A BMI of 30, in most cases, means that an individual is about 30 pounds over their ideal weight.
A more specific definition is the following:
Body Mass Index (BMI) is the standard measurement of choice for many health professionals. BMI is based on a weight-to-height ratio. Overweight is defined as a BMI>=25 and <30 kg/m2. Obesity is defined as a BMI >=30 kg/m2. Obesity correlates strongly with obesity-related co-morbid conditions and mortality."
In more practical terms obesity is 'the excessive accumulation of adipose tissue to an extent that health is impaired."
One of the most commonly given reasons for the increase in the incidence of obesity is lifestyle habits and basic overeating. Diet or the intake of food and drink is one of the central factors that have been documented as the main syndrome of obesity. It should be noted that the causes of obesity are interrelated. For example, modern living conditions, the quality of daily food intake and psychological aspects can be seen to be related. Food intake and eating habits are regarded as the main factors that are related to the increase in obesity over the past decade in the United States.
America's diet consists of hamburgers, French fries and cola drinks! Our fondness for fast food and the marketability of such restaurants overseas make these a cultural symbol to many. And many of the stereotypes are true. The most commonly consumed grain in the United States is white bread; the favorite meat is beef, and the most frequently eaten vegetable is the potato, usually as French fries.
This aspect is exacerbated by the quality of food and the preponderance of sugar-related content, which has far-reaching effects for public health.
Food-related education is badly needed say food-bank workers and fitness experts who tell stories of low-income children coming to school with "meals" of sugarcoated doughnuts, cans of soda and mayonnaise sandwiches. Food banks are also trying to increase their collection of fresh fruits and vegetables. Finding trucks to quickly deliver the produce to local programs remains a major problem.
A research study has established that, coupled with increased intake of unsuitable foods, inactivity is a central factor in the acceleration in obesity. "They rated physical inactivity as significantly more important than any other cause of obesity (p < 0.0009). Two other behavioral factors -- overeating and a high-fat diet -- received the next highest mean ratings."
There is an extensive amount of literature on the subject of the causes of obesity. These range from social and environmental factors to psychological causes and even innate factors such as hereditary. Stress has also been established as a central psychological determinant in obesity.
Obesity might follow stress and anxiety. Stress-induced binge eating occurs in laboratory rats subjected to both food restriction and stress, but does not follow food restriction alone (Hagan et al., 2002). This phenomenon suggests that anxiety can contribute to obesity. Indeed, anxious subjects who are obese consume more food than people who are not obese and those who are less anxious and obese (McKenna, 1972; Pine, 1985).
Recently a research project has suggested that obesity in the United States might be the result of a virus.
A virus may bear part of the blame for the epidemic of obesity in this country, University of Wisconsin scientists say. Two Wisconsin researchers, Dr. Nikhil Dhurandhar and Dr. Richard Atkinson, say their preliminary findings suggest a bug called Ad-36, from an adenovirus family that typically triggers mild respiratory symptoms, may put some people at risk for obesity, just as other viruses cause colds, flu, hepatitis and AIDS.
However, the central and most predominant cause of obesity lies within the ambit of contemporary lifestyles. The general causes of obesity are not hard to discern with even a cursory analysis of contemporary third world eating habits and sedentary behavior.
It has become a crusade to change the way Americans live. The nation's landscape they argue is littered with junk food masquerading as health food; candy and candy-like cereals featuring kids' favorite cartoon characters and toy-like packaging; schools that shamelessly hawk soft drinks and snack foods, and multimillion-dollar advertising campaigns to promote such unwholesome products. Schools, in particular, "have become nutritional disaster areas"... "we've created environments that are hostile to physical activity," says psychologist James Sallis, director of the Active Living Research Program at the San Diego State University.
3. Related illness
Obesity has a concomitant affect on an individual's overall health and can subsequently be connected to other illness and ailments and is also an exacerbating factor in many common diseases. "As obesity rates continue to grow at epidemic proportions in this country, the net effect will be dramatic increases in related chronic health conditions such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease,"
Obesity also has an effect on many common illnesses such as diabetes, particularly type-2 diabetes. This form of diabetes is usually diagnosed in patients over 40 years of age and is caused by the body's inability to process insulin correctly. This form of diabetes is directly linked to obesity and physical inactivity.
At first, your body overproduces insulin to keep blood sugar normal, but over time this causes your body to lose its ability to produce enough insulin to keep blood sugar levels in the normal healthy range. The result is sugar rises in your blood to high levels. Over a long period of time, high blood sugar levels and diabetes can cause heart disease, stroke, blindness, kidney failure, leg and foot amputations, and pregnancy complications. Diabetes can be a deadly disease: over 200,000 people die each year of diabetes-related complications.
High blood sugar levels can also result in further health complications. The problem for overweight people is that they are much more likely to develop the type-2 form of diabetes than those who carry normal weight. It is estimated that the correlation between obesity and type-2 diabetes is as much as ninety percent. The reason for this is that "being overweight puts added pressure on the body's ability to properly control blood sugar using insulin and therefore makes it much more likely for you to develop diabetes." It is significant that the rapid increase in the number of cases of diabetes is strongly related to the prevalence of obesity in the larger American population.
There is also a strong correlation between obesity and being overweight and certain types of cancer. It has been established that there is an increased risk of kidney cancer in overweight men and women. In obese women there is also the increased risk of endometrial cancer as well as postmenopausal breast cancer. There is also a higher risk of colorectal cancer,…