Understanding Obesity and What it is Doing to Our Bodies & Society
Updated: Mar 14, 2020
Obesity… A looming conversation in our world today while 1 in 3 adults over 20 years of age are risking their health by carrying extra weight. Those staggering numbers are not just costing us our lives but costing us up to $200 billion annually. Obesity is having a global impact on our physical and mental health, our ability to live long health lives without dis-ease and being prosperous not just financially but in every area of our lives.
Obesity is a serious concern and has become a leading cause of death worldwide.
What is obesity anyways? By definition obesity is being grossly overweight with a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 30 percent or more and morbidly obese is a BMI over 40 percent. A person with a normal BMI should have a body mass index between 18.5 and 24.9 percent. While anything under is consider underweight.
Using this BMI calculator (Click here) I will use myself as an example; My height is 5’7” and I weigh 126 pounds which makes my BMI 19.7% and in the normal healthy range. For my height, any weight over 159 pounds would be considered obese. There is much to consider when speaking about BMI such as bone density, muscle mass and overall body composition. It makes sense to consider these things when an equation cannot distinguish between fat and muscle. Overall though, determining your BMI is an accurate way to see where you may fall on the scale of being underweight, at a normal healthy weight or overweight.
I want to dive a bit deeper into what obesity is personally for someone who is struggling with being overweight and the issue this epidemic is causing in our society.
According to the CDC, obesity has significantly increased in the last 18 years from around 30% in 2000 to over 40% in 2018. (1) Not only has obesity increased in recent years but it has doubled since the 1980s. Realistically, that is an incredibly short time for us a species.
Women tend to be more at risk of being morbidly obese than men at 11.5% to men’s 6.9%. Two in three women are obese or overweight in the United States. No wonder we are suffering as women! That extra weight is leading to diabetes, heart disease, chronic pain, mental illness and connected to countless cancers. Women who are postmenopausal and obese have a 20% to 40% increase in risk of developing breast cancer compared to a woman with a normal BMI, according to a study done to examine the relationships between body mass index, menopausal status and breast cancer. (2) For more information on the connections between cancers and obesity, take a look of the infographic from the National Cancer Institute. (3)
Obesity for all men, women and children have lasting effects on the mind and body. When our body is overweight our brains seem to have a lower volume of gray matter and our prefrontal cortex is less active. The gray matter truly does matter as it is the region of the brain involved in muscle control and sensory perception. Our prefrontal cortex’s main function is decision making, problem solving, planning, regulation of our thoughts and behavior and contributes largely to our personality. Without a fully functioning prefrontal cortex we begin to display personality changes, an inability to interact with society and a decrease in movement.
Are you beginning to see how the connection between our brains and our weight? Having a fully functioning brain allows us to make better decisions and lead a more positive life.
Another important part of bodies that cannot be ignored in the connection with obesity is the central nervous system. There has been an enormous amount of knowledge learned over the last few decades about our central nervous system including that there is a clear connection to obesity and the imbalances of our parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems. The sympathetic nervous system (SNS) prepares our body for the fight, flight or freeze response during any stressful or potentially dangerous situations by releasing hormones into the system that increase alertness, increases the heart rate and sends extra blood to muscles. The SNS plays an essential role in the homeostatic regulation of the cardiovascular system. It’s suggested that irregular SNS activity is seen in individuals who are suffering from hypertension and congestive heart failure that are also obese and muscle sympathetic nerve activity is elevated. Scientist are discovering muscle sympathetic nerve activity may play a role in insulin resistance in obese individuals. The connections are endless but the main neurological consequence of obesity is cognitive function. Cognition (the ability to learn, solve problems, remember, and the ability to use said stored information) is a key to successfully leading a healthy life and aging with grace. Evidence continues to show us that our choices in food and lifestyles are affecting our lives and bodies longterm with an increase risk in neurological disorders. (4)
Obesity is a condition that is self-treatable and can be fully recovered from.
I recently asked a client whom has struggled for many years with being morbidly obese, what her biggest complaints were with being overweight. This is being shared with her permission and encouragement. Her complaints were:
Pain that is associated with carrying a large amount of weight (particularly in her knees).
Chronic illnesses such as respiratory infections and colds.
A lack of confidence to be seen in public.
Her complaints aren't out of the ordinary. Her complaints pretty much make up a large portion of the obese population’s complaints. Many struggle with pain and in return decrease movement in their daily lives to the point that immobility occurs. There is a higher risk of catching the flu and simple colds because obesity alters the immune system leaving the person at risk of illnesses. Lastly, the complaint that I find most important today is her lack of confidence to be seen in public. Clearly, the excess weight has taken a toll of her mental health, as it has everywhere for many. The scenario is troubling all around.
Too scared to go outside, too ill to live life and being so heavy just hurts.
Are you wondering, how can you make a change when this far gone?
Well, change is always possible at any stage. Will it reverse all the effects? I don’t know and science still has much to learn to determine that answer, but I do know that you can make changes to lead a healthier life. Those changes will be difficult but worth it. There are people to support you in the process; doctors who specialize in obesity, bariatric surgery, nutritional therapy and nutrition coaches like myself that help you on your journey to living a fuller, happier life. Loosing weight isn’t the only part of your life to heal when on a weight-loss journey, there’s also all the other areas of life to tend to.
I like to call all the areas of life together "the web of health." The web of health is for anyone working on themselves. As you begin to work on the part of your web that makes up your health, you may notice that your social (friends, family, community or tribe) web is not full. By making connections with others, like your family and/or creating new healthy relationships in your life, your "web" will surely begin to fill in other areas like Joy and Pleasure. This goes for any part of your web as you become more fulfilled in life, your web begins to look like a beautiful full web that catches all that you need and desire.
Here's a short exercise for the Physical Environment part of your web; Take a look around you now. Is it cluttered and messy? Is there garbage sitting around? How does it smell to you?
Pause here for a moment to answer those questions...
If it is clean and tidy, great! If not so much, I invite you to take 5 minutes and clean it up. throw out the trash, stack papers neatly, tidy up your environment because our brains work better when our environment is clean. Get rid of the clutter around you to make space within. Notice how you feel after just 5 minutes of cleaning your space. Do this in all area of your environment, make your bed each morning, put the clothes away, clean your desk and so on. You'll feel better once you do.
Again, pay close attention to healing all areas of life as they all hold an equal weight. When one area of your life is not being cared for, it will affect other areas. This is a balance act in its greatest form.
When beginning any journey to a healthier life there are a few simple steps to take to help guide you on the right path, to keep you motivated and organized.
Visit your doctor, get a full physical and include your doctor in on your journey. They are part of your support system and are pivotal to your success.
Calculate you BMI.
Take measurements such as weight and waist measurements to get a clear picture of where you are currently.
Start with small changes such as moving your body daily, adding in a multivitamin and eating mindfully.
Make healthier eating choices. Break the old habits now.
Avoid unrealistic diets, they’re unlikely to help you loose excess weight and keep it off long term.
When you’re ready, consider joining a program, gym or coach for an extended period of time to help educate and guide you on your journey. Expanding your support system will only increase your success rate.
As obesity continues to affect our personal lives, yet consider how it is affecting our society on a global level. Globally two-thirds of adults are overweight and one-third are obese. Obesity is putting us at risk for serious health conditions and affecting the contribution that all humans have within our society. Individuals whom are struggling with their weight often have trouble obtaining work and keeping it longterm. Even if they are working, their production level is often lower as their energy levels and ability, prevent them for working on a level compared to an individual with a healthier lifestyle. This is a growing health problem for the public as obesity affects our adults, the rate of childhood obesity continues to increase as well. In 2019, around 5 million children in United States were obese with 80% of those expected to become obese adults, and many of those adults will be on public assistance by the time they are 18 as they will be unable to enter the workforce. For those entering the workforce, there will be discrimination present as their weight is looked down upon.
Evidence continues to show us that obesity affects the quality of life at any age. When our quality our life goes down, we experience more stress, depression, low self-esteem and social isolation. This perpetuates through our society, impacting us economically and socially.
In 2016, the Mayo Clinic released a study done on healthy lifestyle characteristics. (4) That study found that less than 3% of all adults led a healthy lifestyle in the four specific health characteristics they were looking for.
Healthy Lifestyle Characteristics:
Moderate or vigorous exercise for at least 150 minutes a week
A diet score in the top 40 percent on the Healthy Eating Index
A body fat percentage under 20 percent (for men) or 30 percent (for women)
Learn more about the Health Eating Index (HEI)
Balancing these areas of our lives can be challenging but with daily practice they become second nature. Like anything, repetition is the mother of skill. Soon these activities are no longer chores but simple acts of our days that allow us to preform better, feel better and react better.
Understanding nutrition is more than just eating vegetables and fruits. It’s about meeting all of your nutritional needs by eating a balanced diet, making yourself happier and healthier in the process and knowing what’s good for you and what’s not. Nutrition is a science, it’s the basics of our buildup. What we decide to consume determines who we are. Our food choices determine our energy, how well we recover and our overall health.
When we begin to live a healthier lifestyle, we begin to leave behind the surviving and we begin to thrive.
Health Eating Index https://www.fns.usda.gov/how-hei-scored