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Obesity is an epidemic: Who’s to blame?

Talks of obesity being an epidemic is doing the rounds of various news circles, and while it may seem the topic is being blown out of proportion, it is a public health concern that is fast rising to the status of becoming a crisis.

Obesity is becoming a cause of serious concern because while it might seem normal for one individual to accumulate excess body fat, it is disconcerting that the epidemic of obesity is taking place worldwide. How could metabolic activity, hormones, genetics or other biological factors cause a similar change in millions of people?

Obesity is not only restricted to developed countries like the United States, and has now made its way into middle-income families in developing countries like ours as well. What’s worse, the obesity epidemic is now spreading to children, and there are more and more obese children growing up to become obese adults, with other obesity-associated diseases like heart disease, diabetes, cancer, arthritis, etc.

So, what’s causing this epidemic in the first place?

The most rationale and obvious answer to the question is eating more than what is required and exercising too little to burn excess calories. While experts suggest that genetics plays a role in determining body weight and shape in individuals, the extent of the problem cannot be entirely explained through genetics.

The way the modern generation lives, works and eats has a great role to play in the obesity epidemic. Stressful work schedules leave little or no time to exercise, and healthy eating habits are trampled by fast foods rich in fats, sugars and salts, increased portion sizes – all leading to expanded waist sizes and heavier bodies.

Let’s take a more detailed look at how modern lifestyle is contributing to the obesity epidemic:

The way we work

Data collected by the U.S Bureau of Labour Statistics over many decades evaluated the link between physical activity at workplace and obesity. By 2010, there has been a significant decline in the amount of physical work that a job demands.

Advances in manufacturing, agriculture and technology can explain the reduced requirement of human energy. The study showed that an average American man burns 142 calories lesser every day than what s/he would have in 1960s. It might not sound like a lot over a day, but the calorie count adds up over the years.

While there may not be an escape from working on the desk from nine to five, efforts to include activity at regular intervals or avoiding machines and vehicles when possible are small steps that can help tackle this issue.

The way we entertain

If work is sedentary or highly dependent on machines, off-work hours are a time when physical inactivity during the day can be compensated for. According to most trusted health organisations, even a 30-minute walk every day can go a long way in ensuring physical activity.

However, a vast majority of the population today spends leisure time in sedentary activities like watching television, surfing the internet on computer, playing games in front of a video console, etc. The problem is aggravated when these involve snacking on junk foods that are close at hand.

A European study conducted in 2011 focused on TV watching habits of over 12,000 people over a course of seven years. It was found that an additional hour of TV viewing predicted a six per cent increase in the risk of developing heart disease.

Our eating habits

Lack of physical activity and sedentary choice of leisure activities take a big share in leading to obesity, but modern eating habits also contribute to the epidemic. While the time spent being physically active during a day has declined over the years, the average daily calorie intake has increased. Large portion sizes are served by commercial food chains, often selling junk food and snacks – these being calorie-rich yet nutrient deficient. Sugary foods and sweetened beverages are also contributing to the growing obesity epidemic. An increased calorie intake leads to excess calories that pile on over the years and cause obesity.

The bigger picture in this situation is the changes that are occurring in the society and how they influence individuals and children. New, technology-dependent advances are changing the way people work in office, leisure activities have become restricted to screens and entertainment boxes, and food choices have moved towards the fast-food trend – choices and habits that are reflective of our future health. While economic, social and medical strategies can be initiated to tackle this epidemic at a larger scale, every individual can regain control by taking responsibility for his/her diet, exercise and health.

 

 

Sources:

Image courtesy of [Grant Cochrane] / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

“Obesity Epidemic “Astronomical”” WebMD.com, R. Morgan Griffin, http://www.webmd.com/diet/features/obesity-epidemic-astronomical

“Obesity in America: What’s Driving the Epidemic?” MSN.com, Harvard Health Publications, http://healthyliving.msn.com/health-wellness/obesity-in-america-whats-driving-the-epidemic-1

“The obesity epidemic,” TheHindu.com, Kamala Thiagarajan, October 24, 2013, http://www.thehindu.com/features/education/issues/the-obesity-epidemic/article5268607.ece