Regarding obesity and health, it has been said that the United States is the most over-fed and under-nourished country in the world.
Is that a valid indictment? Well we can collect an awful lot of circumstantial evidence by sitting on a bench in the mall and doing a little people watching.
Certainly we will see that some huge percentage of our population is in fact overweight if not obese.
OK, so what. The real question is to what extent is being overweight or obese a threat to health?
By the way, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) defines obesity as a body mass index equal to or greater than 30.
We intuitively know that carrying around excess weight puts some added stress and strains on our body but specifically what does it do to our long term health?
We tend to focus way too much on the scale and obsess over pounds. The real issue is inches, not pounds.
Our weight in pounds can be very misleading in that there is quite a difference between in the weight of equal volumes of fat and muscle. A fact that can cause the Body Mass Index to give very erroneous conclusions on occasion.
It is difficult and often subjective to try to describe obesity and health in a series of charts and graphs. Nevertheless, there are numerous organizations that track weight and obesity trends across the U.S. and tabulate their findings in data bases available to the public.
The findings are cause for alarm in that most data clearly shows a steady upward trend since the early to mid-eighties. It's not all bleak, however, since the trend does show a leveling off in the two years prior to 2007. From 2007 to 2010 (see Obesity map below) however, something not so good happened.
The statistics show us the trend but they don't reveal the basic causes behind the epidemic of obesity. Read on to explore some possible causes driving the trend.
The 2007 map showed three states in the highest obesity percentage category, namely Mississippi, Alabama and Tennessee. The 2010 map below now shows 13 states in the highest category, a very alarming trend.
On the surface, the answer appears to be very straight forward. Food had something to do with it...eating more food, taking in more calories than we burned. If we don't burn the calories we take in, they get stored as fat.
But hang on a minute. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) started keeping records on the percentages of overweight and obese Americans in 1962.
The records show that there wasn't much change in obesity and health in our population until around 1980. So in 1980 did Americans suddenly start overeating and become couch potatoes. How did obesity and health suddenly become an issue?
Prior to 1980, low cal and low carb diets were in vogue but in 1980, a logical sounding but very erroneous fad took hold...low fat. The belief was that if we eat fat, we got fat.
Once the country got hooked on the low fat idea, our fate was sealed. But that's not the whole story, there is an economic side to the obesity and health issue as we will see in a video coming up.
The popular low cal, low carb, low fat, and high protein diets of the last fifty years, have been dismal failures. Each has had its time in the sun but have left dieters who tried them disappointed. They usually
work fairly quickly in the beginning then a plateau is reached where weight loss stalls.
There is a mechanism in the body that, at some point, will cause a rebound and the dieter will regain all the pounds they lost plus some. It is not unusual for some people to be on zero carb diets or no fat diets and still be gaining weight.
Ouch! If you can do this, you've got problems!
Proper nutrition and diet have a strong partner when it comes to weight control; namely exercise and fitness. It pays large dividends to have a fitness program and stick to it, preferably with a coach.
Low fat, no fat diets aside, our country is fat by design. There is a partnership between big food, fast food and big government in the persona of congress and the USDA, to produce and sell more food.
As always, there are unforseen consequences when government and industry collude. In this case the consequences are an obesity epidemic centered directly on the poor and economically challenged people of the U.S. Obesity and health are not compatible.
Nothing brings this home better than a recent video produced by Aljazeera, of all people, titled, "Fault Lines - Fast Food, Fat Profits: Obesity in America". Why couldn't PBS or the USDA or CDC produce a video like this and distribute it on the web? They probably could but the sad fact is that the Al Jazeera video is blocked from showing in America. I wonder whose money subverted our 1st Amendment in this case?
As noted above, the government is the culprit and they are not about to expose something that might impact the profits of the food industries or kill the golden goose that provides all that money brought to congress by big food lobbyists. When it comes to obesity and health, it appears that the big money thinks ignorance is bliss.
Since we can't watch the video, here's an even better solution in the form of two books. The first is Fat Chance by Dr. Robert Lustig, M.D. The second is Don't Eat This Book: Fast Food and the Supersizing of America by Morgan Spurlock.
You can click on the the book cover images to look them over.
Morgan Spurlock's claim to fame is that he was the guy that ate nothing but McDonald's for thirty days to investigate the effects of fast food on American health.
In this follow-on book he picks apart everything from the school lunch programs to the marketing of fast food and the decline of physical activity.
You may recognize Dr. Lustig as the man who created the 90-minute YouTube video "Sugar: The Bitter Truth". In his current book he covers the science and politics that led to the pandemic of chronic disease over the last 30 years. Both books are worth the read.
We don't have to look any further than the statistics on the rise in diabetes to see that there is a correlation between obesity and health. The increase in obesity and the increase in diabetes are in lockstep.
There is an inverse relationship between obesity and health. This means that the more overweight we become, the more likely we are to develop serious health issues. There are correlations between the obesity epidemic and increases in a number of diseases.
But is obesity itself a disease?
The answers to the above is, No, Yes and Yes. The big surprise of the century is that in June of 2013 at the AMA's annual meeting, it was decreed, after a vote on the subject, that obesity is a disease. That in itself doesn't mean much except that the mainstream media usually picks up these things.
The result of widespread media attention is that they often become public policy, can pave the way for provider reimbursement, remove the stigma of obesity and result in a raft of new codes for classification of diseases. Anyone suffering from obesity can now throw out any personal responsibility for their condition since they are now victims of a disease.
According to a quote in medscape.com, "Obesity is a pathophysiologic disease. There is a treatment for this disease; it involves behavioral modification, medications, and surgeons. Obesity affects minorities disproportionaltely." said Dr. Jonathan Leffert, an alternate delegate at the AMA meeting for endocrinology, diabetes and metabolism.
So there you have it; something for everyone. The psychiatrists get a piece of the action; the drug industry gets a huge new market for its pills and surgeons get to cut, cut, cut in their quest to cure this new disease.
The vote was far from unanimous. Several delegates took the stance that obesity does not qualify as a disease or meet the criteria for disease. Others rightly so, likened obesity and health to smoking. Smoking can lead to lung cancer and emphysema in the same way that obesity can lead to diabetes and hypertension but neither smoking or obesity is a disease per se.
Still others argued that behavior and dietary choices play a large role in obesity and that the focus should be on prevention and personal responsibility.
Wrapping up the disease aspect of obesity and health, when we see that thirty years ago obesity did not exist to the extent that it does today, we have to ask what changed? The obvious answer is that diet changed. Fast food, processed foods, highly sugared food and high glycemic food became the norm and it should be no surprise that obesity is now becoming the norm.
One of the major contributors to our obesity problem and its resulting diseases is high-sugar content drinks...Surprise, surprise!
A March 20, 2013 Medscape.com article by Marlene Busko put numbers to it. The article reported that in 2010, 132,000 deaths from diabetes, 44,000 deaths from cardivascular disease and 6000 deaths from cancer could be attributed to the consumption of sugared soft drinks, fruit juice and sports drinks.
It's an easy fix; just avoid the sugary drinks. Well, maybe not so easy; apparently the sugar fix is hard to break. Legislation ala NYC former mayor Bloomburg is not the answer, education coupled with personal responsibility is.
Intuitively we know that as the incidences of these weight related diseases rise, so does the economic cost to the U.S. in terms of actual money out of pocket for treatment, insurance costs and productivity losses.
The only diet that really works is not really a diet as we traditionally understand diets. It does not involve starvation, food deprivation, counting calories or cutting out all fats and carbohydrates.
It does involve some changes in food selection at the supermarket, some changes in how food is prepared and eaten and some changes in the timing and quantity of food intake.
In short, it involves becoming educated in the interaction between obesity and health and making healthy choices for life in all areas of food.
The key is in understanding that not all people metabolize food the same way and that genetics plays an extremely important role.
Another index, the Glycemic Index, coupled with a knowledge of what genetic type we are is the ultimate key to success in losing weight and staying at your ideal weight.
It's all about choosing foods that don't elevate blood sugar. The chart shows the effect of a high glycemic food (red line) and a low glycemic food (blue line) on blood sugar over about a 90 minute timespan.
Speaking of obesity and health and saving the best for last, to really control weight, think about Alpha Lipoic Acid (ALA). This is a powerful antioxidant that helps promote a healthy metabolism and it is an ingredient in many high-quality supplements.
What is unique about ALA is that it is both fat and water soluble which enables it to effectively penetrate every part of the cell.
This ability allows ALA to better stimulate the metabolic “master switch” that responds to how much energy is available to the cells. Most people have never heard of adenosine-monophosphate-activated protein kinase, or just "AMPK" for short.
AMPK is a protein based enzyme that regulates cellular energy, metabolism, and even glutathione levels. Think of it as a fuel sensor for every cell in the body that turns on energy producing pathways to support metabolism.
The desired result is a reduction of fat accumulation in the blood and other parts of the body and an improved insulin sensitivity. Its reputation as a "master switch" is well earned.
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Link to all you need to know about the Body Mass Index.
Link to Diets; what works and what doesn't.
Link to Glycemic Index for another facet of weight control.
Link to Obesity Trends