We are in the midst of a pandemic right now – and we are not referring to COVID-19.
Obesity rates have nearly tripled since 1975. As of 2016, more than 2.1 billion people worldwide are overweight or obese.
We live in a blame culture, where everyone is quick to point fingers at all others before looking at their own actions and taking personal responsibility for their health. The stance on obesity is no different.
Many people categorise obesity as a disease and something which is out of your control, putting more pressure on the government to come up with solutions through taxation laws and public health initiatives.
Is there any truth to the claims that some cannot help but be obese? Or is it a matter of taking more responsibility of our health?
Let us dive into this further and look at what the causes and consequences of obesity are and what you can do to take back some control.
Why do we need to discuss obesity?
For adults, the World Health Organisation (WHO) defines a body mass index (BMI) greater than or equal to 25 as overweight, and greater than or equal to 30 as obese. 1
Approximately 90% of people with type 2 diabetes are either overweight or obese.
Obesity accounts for around 65-75% of the risk profile for high blood pressure.
In 2019, an estimated 38.2 million children under the age of five were overweight or obese worldwide.
If current trends continue, experts estimate that by 2030, almost 60% of the population in the world will be overweight or obese.2
These facts make for uncomfortable reading – but they need to be faced.
Being overweight cuts your life expectancy and means you will face a greater risk of cancer, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, dementia, Alzheimer’s, depression, and other mental health issues.
While the physiological cause of obesity is nearly always the same, multiple factors can have an impact. These include mainly environmental, social, and genetic factors. These will influence how we behave and whether we act in a way that leads to obesity, so to some degree examining our behaviour is critical.
Obesity can cut your life expectancy by up to 10 years.
Am I genetically predisposed to be obese?
There is a saying that ‘your genes might load the gun, but your lifestyle and environment pull the trigger’.
On a physiological level, there is truth to the idea that our genes can influence how we use energy and adapt to periods of over-or under-feeding. Factors like the attitudes to food and exercise we learn from our parents. Psychology, inequality, and our environment are also important.
We also know that mental health conditions have a genetic link, and modern culture often encourages us to use food and drink as coping mechanisms, which, of course, compound the problem of obesity.
Many people are born with diverse genes that put them at risk of everything from breast cancer to Alzheimer’s, but many will never go on to develop these conditions without the requisite lifestyle and environmental factors that cause these diseases.
Similarly, your genes might predispose you to being overweight, but with the right lifestyle factors in place, you are extremely unlikely to become obese.
The Law of Thermodynamics states that we cannot make energy out of nothing. So, put someone in a consistent calorie deficit, and it is scientifically impossible that they will not lose weight. However, the factors we previously stated above may make the process much more challenging for some.
Regardless, we must take some personal responsibility when we make unhealthy choices and do nothing to counter them.
Create a consistent calorie deficit through increased activity and decreased energy intake and you will lose weight.
Is my environment to blame?
We as humans are products of our environments, and the continual message of ‘overconsumption’ is everywhere we go.
The food and drink industry invests millions so that you will buy their products, and they do so in ever more creative ways. Now, we have various apps at our fingertips that allow us to order food straight to our doors within 15 minutes.
Deprived areas and low-income families will also be more likely to turn to cheaper, less nutritious food choices. Often, the easy choice is the unhealthy choice and, in some cases, the most rational choice (on the surface).
There have already been small steps in the right direction with regulations on food advertising to children and the introduction of the sugar tax.
Despite this, we cannot entirely dismiss individual responsibility (and in the case of children, parental responsibility) when we talk about obesity. No one is physically forced to overeat and to be less active.
We live in an increasingly ‘obesogenic’ environment, but we all have to take personal responsibility for our health and well-being.
So, who bears the responsibility?
People indeed need to be in an environment that aids them in positively changing their eating and exercise habits, including proper education and guidance when it comes to being healthier all around.
We live in a blame culture, in that we are very quick to point fingers at all others and all other factors before we take a good hard look at ourselves and our behaviours. In many circumstances, obesity is much more than just poor personal choice, but that alone doesn’t make it a disease.
Losing weight is not easy, but it also doesn’t mean we have no control over it.
Instead, we should be taking responsibility and ownership for our poor health choices, regardless of the reasons behind why we made them, and take the necessary steps to reverse them.
The government and food and drink industry do have a role to play, but we should not, by any means, shrug our shoulders and sit back waiting for them and medical science to find the ‘magic cure.’
What can you do to take back some control?
The fundamental cause of being overweight or obese will always be an imbalance between how much we eat and how many calories we expend.
When it comes to weight loss and fat loss, actions which promote a healthier lifestyle all around, and sticking to these better habits consistently will breed results.
- Create an energy deficit through diet and exercise.
- Ensure the majority of your diet consists of nutrient dense, whole foods. This means lean protein, fibrous fruits and vegetables, and healthy fats.
- Increase your daily activity by moving more throughout the day, a good starting point is to measure your current step count and try to increase from there.
- Regular exercise 2-3 times per week. Resistance training in particular can help you burn calories, build muscle and lower inflammation in the body.
- Prioritise your sleep quality and quantity, aiming for 7-9 hours on average per day.
- Manage your stress with relaxation techniques such as meditation or yoga, instead of using food and drink to help mitigate anxious feelings.
The take-home message
Being obese does not make you a bad person. There is, and never will be, the judgement here towards YOU as a person. However, it is equally not something we can accept as healthy, nor should we.
Remember, you are not alone in the fight against obesity, but the first step is accepting that something needs to change for you to not only have a longer life but a better quality of life.
There is support and guidance at your disposal should you wish to take it, but the decision to try needs to come from you.