Obesity is defined as the excess amount of fat in the body that is dangerous to the individual’s health. Obesity can be checked by calculating the body mass index. This number is obtained when the weight of a person in kilograms is divided by the total height of the person. A person with a body mass index greater than 30 is considered obese. We will show examples of BMI calculation and talk about its differences for men and women in one of the following paragraphs of this article.
It is important to emphasize that people who have a large amount of muscle mass (e.g. bodybuilders) also have an increased body mass index but are not considered obese. For this reason, the BMI is not the definite parameter of obesity; it only serves as a statistical measure of nutrition.
Therefore, we can say that obesity is the excessive accumulation of fat in the body due to the increase in the number of fat cells or the increase in their volume.
In this article, we will talk about types of obesity, how it develops, its symptoms, consequences, and, most importantly, how to prevent obesity.
Types of obesity
The first type of obesity begins in early childhood with a progressive weight gain, especially at puberty. The second type of obesity begins in adulthood, mainly due to improper diet and physical inactivity.
Both types show an increase in adipose tissue. On average, adipose tissue accounts for 15-20% of total body weight in men and 20-25% in women. The amount and arrangement of adipose tissue depend on age and gender. It is found everywhere in the body, especially in the subcutaneous tissue. Adipose tissue consists of fat cells or adipocytes, which accumulate and form fat deposits. Each fat cell is a small factory for building and breaking down fat, accumulating and releasing energy. Thus, fat is an energy reservoir for the body.
Another classification of obesity tells us that there are primary and secondary obesity. Primary obesity is obesity that develops per se, due to various lifestyle, genetic, socioeconomic, and nutritional/dietary factors, when there is no another disease involved prior to the development of obesity. Secondary obesity is a consequence of various disorders and diseases.
Causes of obesity
The causes of obesity are complex, because there are, most often, several factors involved. Those are genetic, nutritional, psychological, socioeconomic, and other factors (1).
Among these factors, the lifestyle factors that can be changed play a very important role. Those are excessive food intake, excessive alcohol consumption, physical inactivity, and stress.
Symptoms of obesity
Obesity occurs when over a long period of time a person takes more calories than he or she spends or burns. There are large amounts of fat in a person’s body. Another symptom or marker showing obesity is body mass index greater than 30. Additionally, a person may experience breathing difficulties, rapid fatigue, high blood pressure, and joint pain.
Why are we gaining weight?
In order to understand how to prevent obesity, we must first understand the way we gain weight. We gain weight and become “fat” when we intake more energy than we actually need, i.e. more than we can consume. We also gain weight when we are consuming a certain number of calories, but are not being physically active, so we cannot consume energy. All excess energy input is stored in the form of fat and, as a result, we gain weight (1).
The number of fat cells is usually formed in childhood and during the period of adolescence when excessive food intake causes the development of new fat cells. During adulthood, an increase in the adipose tissue mass results primarily from an increase in adipose tissue size. However, if the degree of excessive food intake is extremely high, the cell number will increase too. Therefore, it is important to remember that when you gain weight, you first increase the volume of your already existing fat cells and then, in the second or third phase, you also increase their number.
However, when you lose weight, only the size of the fat cells is reduced, not their number. This explains the rapid weight gain after a certain period of time when you stop being on a diet and stop exercising.
Health risks of obesity
Being overweight poses a health risk because it increases blood pressure. Namely, overweight people are 2-6 times more likely to develop high blood pressure and related diseases. Moreover, it causes elevated blood cholesterol levels, which depend on the intake of saturated fats that we take through food every day. Obesity also increases the risk of type 2 diabetes. As a matter of fact, 80% of people with diabetes are obese (1).
Furthermore, obesity increases the risk of heart attack and stroke. This increase is significant in adults, while overweight children are 3-5 times more likely to have a heart attack or stroke before the age of 65. Obesity also promotes atherosclerosis and it ads loads to the joints and spine. Obese people much more commonly suffer from varicose veins, hernias, gallstones, etc.
Obesity can also cause premature death (mortality of obese men is significantly higher than the mortality of men with normal weight and BMI.
Measure your measures and make sure you are not at risk!
Here are a few simple steps that will show you whether you are obese or at risk of becoming obese.
- Waist measurement: Waist circumference over 94 cm for men and over 80 cm for women poses a health risk related to obesity. Waist circumference measuring over 102 cm for men and 88 cm for women represents a very high risk.
- Body mass index (BMI): It is used to estimate the desirable body weight of adults and to assess the health risks of developing obesity. It is obtained by the formula: body weight expressed in kilograms divided by the height on the power of two expressed in meters.
Formula: BMI = body weight (in kilograms) / height 2 (in meters)
Compare your BMI with the internationally accepted values and determine your level of health risk related to obesity.
How to prevent obesity?
The basic measure for reducing weight, controlling weight gain, and preventing obesity is to change your lifestyle (1). If you change your habits, that is, practice a balanced diet, consume lots of water and exercise regularly, you are on a good way to prevent obesity.
It is very important not to be hungry and to avoid starvation (1). Consume several small meals a day and eat moderately. Nutritionists and medical doctors also recommend introducing small meals between breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Five small meals a day, instead of the conventional three, will help your metabolism run faster and distribute your energy more evenly throughout the day (1).
Healthy eating during your lifetime is also associated with a better condition of your whole body in old age. An organism that is sufficiently stocked with minerals, vitamins, and other nutrients will be able to tolerate physical changes in old age, and those people who used to eat healthy and various food during their life usually have better results in physical and mental fitness tests and rarely suffer from obesity (3).
Here are some recommendations regarding the main three meals you must not skip. However, don’t forget to add two or three small meals in between them in order to avoid starvation.
Let’s start with breakfast, the most important meal of the day. The point of having breakfast is ensuring a proper intake of nutrients that will provide you with energy throughout the day. You should not avoid breakfast and you should have it within one hour after waking up.
Oatmeal, which is inexpensive, is an excellent way to start your day. You can consume it every day in different combinations with both salty and sweet natural ingredients. Namely, you can play and experiment with different ingredients, add your favorite fruit, almonds or other nuts, honey or chia seeds, which will additionally provide the feeling of satiety give you various nutrients. You can also prepare oatmeal in the form of pudding. Why is oatmeal so valuable? Oatmeal is a natural food, with plenty of fiber that gives you an extra sense of satiety, and is a great source of complex carbohydrates. 100 grams of oatmeal bring you 347 calories.
Eggs, which many people enjoy eating, will make your breakfast healthy and delicious. You can prepare your eggs in a variety of ways and whether cooked, in the form of an omelet or poached, eggs are a healthy way to start your day. Don’t avoid egg yolks as they contain good fats.
You can combine this healthy food with vegetables you like, such as fresh tomatoes or peppers, and add a slice of bread. Bread doesn’t necessarily have to be bad for you, it only represents a problem when it is full of additives. Try eating whole grain bread, the one enriched with some quality seeds, or simply bake your own bread, which, in addition to being tasty, will also be a rather cheap alternative.
Tuna, which is a great source of protein, vitamins, and minerals, and contains so few calories, can make your lunch very tasty, and you can prepare it in many ways. For example, you can bake tuna in an oven and serve it with potatoes or vegetables you like, add it to salads or serve with rice. Fresh tomatoes are a great addition to tuna. This will make your meal even more delicious and healthier.
Why is fish an excellent choice for lunch? Because of the omega-3 fatty acids, it contains, tuna and other similar kinds of fish and seafood are very healthy for your heart and blood vessels. Other types of fish you should consume include sardines, cod, mackerel, and tilapia. These kinds of fish have the highest nutritional value, and you can prepare them in many ways.
Cabbage, which is rich in vitamin C and many other nutrients, will help you achieve perfect results regarding your diet and weight loss. Cabbage is a very good ally in the prevention of obesity. You can prepare cabbage in a variety of ways, both fresh and cooked. You can prepare a potato salad or rice as a side dish with your fish.
Many stick to that infamous rule – don’t eat after 6 pm, 7 pm or 8 pm; it doesn’t really matter! All you have to do is keep your dinner light, and as far as the time frame is concerned, let your last meal be about 2 hours before bedtime. We definitely suggest eating some quality, low-fat cheese for dinner. For example, you can simply add your favorite fresh vegetables to cheese, spice it up if desired, and add yogurt dressing. This is a very simple dinner that will keep you satiated for a long time and your calorie intake will be minimal.
Simple fresh vegetables are definitely recommended for dinner. Salads can be very tasty and easy to prepare. Simply experiment with fresh ingredients, add your favorite vegetables, season as desired, or add your favorite dressing.
Another healthy trick for tastier vegetables is to add honey. Honey is delicious and nutritious food and will make your vegetables even better. Simply fry your favorite vegetables until soft and add a tablespoon of honey. Most noteworthy, this will boost your immune system.
Nuts are a good choice at any time of the day, and especially for a light dinner. Add your favorite nuts to a bowl of yogurt. This kind of dinner, besides being healthy, is also very easy to prepare.
How to prevent obesity in children?
There is about 11 percent of obese children in pre-school age and even more in the school age. Most often, obesity in children is a matter of over-consumption of food, i.e. an exaggerated intake of calories, and parents are urged to change their kids’ lifestyles in order to prevent their children from developing obesity and dangerous illnesses (2). Specifically, childhood obesity further increases in adulthood, exposing a person to an increased risk of many diseases of the circulatory system as well as cancer.
What are the things you can do for your kids to ensure their well-being and health, and, most importantly, prevent obesity? Here are a few simple recommendations.
Give them several servings of smaller portions a day. Eating smaller portions and healthy snacks throughout the day can solve the problem of your child’s “constant” hunger and suppress the urge for fast food and junk food. Children who eat four to five times a day are the least likely to become overweight or obese (2).
Moreover, you can serve food on smaller plates. Namely, children who eat small, baby-sized portions from small bowls or dishes eat less than kids who are served lunch on adult-size plates.
Here is a very important piece of advice. Limit your child’s TV watching time. Prevent your child from living a sedentary life. Encourage your child to involve in creative activities, including sports instead of spending long hours in front of the TV or computer. Watching TV and playing video games affect weight gain over time. If you’re paying attention to TV, you’re not paying attention to hunger, and you’re also unaware of how many snacks you eat while you’re preoccupied with playing games, watching a movie or TV series. You and your kids should eat only in the dining room, not in front of the TV or computer.
In addition, you should give your child a decent breakfast. In other words, let him or her have breakfast as a king. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, according to all experts, and it is your task to introduce this habit into your kid’s life. Many studies have shown a link between having breakfast regularly and having a lower body mass index and less tendency to accumulate excess weight and develop obesity. Cereals are a great breakfast choice. They are easy to store, prepare, and provide much-needed nutrients. Kids who eat whole grains have higher levels of Vitamin D, riboflavin, potassium, vitamins B3 and B12, iron, calcium, and zinc.
Obesity treatments consist of several different measures working together to lead to satisfactory results (3). One of them is diet treatment. Dieting involves adjusting your food intake in order to reduce your calorie intake.
Moderately reducing calorie intake is crucial for gradual but steady weight loss, which is important for maintaining regular weight and preventing obesity. Dietary treatment strategies include learning about the caloric value of certain foods, the composition of foods (fats, carbohydrates, and proteins), reading nutrition recommendations, buying certain types of foods, and how to prepare foods. Some diets rely on low-calorie intake, very low-calorie intake, or low fat intake.
Physical activity is another strategy crucial for the prevention and treatment of obesity (1). Reduced daily activities related to work, transportation, and housework are believed to contribute to a high percentage of overweight and obese people. For the purpose of weight loss, moderate physical activity is recommended. You should exercise for 30 minutes or more per day, preferably every day of the week. Physical activity is, therefore, the key part of maintaining the desired weight. Abdominal fat, and in some cases waist circumference, can be moderately reduced by physical activity. A physical activity strategy involves applying aerobic exercises (such as aerobic dance, fast walking, jogging, cycling, running, and swimming), which begins slowly and continues into intense physical activity. You can choose enjoyable activities that can fit into your daily routine.
Behavioral treatment is another important obesity curing strategy. Behavioral treatment involves changing your eating and physical activity habits and adopting new behavioral patterns that encourage weight loss. A behavioral treatment strategy to reduce weight and maintain your new weight includes logging diet and exercise patterns in a diary, identifying high-risk situations (such as keeping high-calorie foods in the home) and consciously avoiding them, as well as rewarding specific practices, such as longer exercise or reduced consumption of certain foods. Moreover, it implies correcting unrealistic goals and illusory beliefs related to weight loss and body image and adopting realistic and positive ones. You should also develop a support network (family, friends or colleagues) or join a support group that can promote weight loss in a positive and motivating way.
Drug treatment is one of the last tools in obesity treatment. Medication is recommended in people with a body mass index (BMI)> 30 or BMI> 27 with two or more obesity-related health disorders. Drug treatment should be combined with appropriate changes in lifestyle. It can also be used to reduce weight and maintain it. Regular medical monitoring of patients is required to determine the efficacy and safety of drug administration. These types of medicines usually work on the principle of reducing the ability of one’s body to absorb fat from food. This ability is reduced by 30%. Other groups of these medicines acts through the central nervous system causing a feeling of satiety.
Combination treatment implies a combination of diet (with reduced calorie intake) and increased physical activity. It is thought to lead to more weight loss than diet alone or physical activity alone. The combination of behavioral and drug treatment is also effective in the treatment of obesity. There are indications that medication may help adhere to specific diets (low in fat and calories) and may help to maintain weight loss.
Surgical treatment is recommended as the choice of treatment for obese individuals with BMI> 40 or BMI between 35 and 39.9 and serious health problems. Surgery modifies the stomach and intestines to reduce the amount of food a person can eat. Surgery is a validated method of long-term weight control for people with severe obesity. Even though these kinds of surgeries were frowned upon in the past, major steps have been taken to develop safer and more effective procedures in modern obesity-related surgery. Patients should be informed of the potential risks and expected benefits before surgery. Patients must be motivated and committed to the concept of changing their habits after the surgery. Part of a life-long post-surgical weight control plan should include a medical team, with behavioral specialists and nutritionists.
Given that obesity is an increasingly common condition in the world, it is important to know how to prevent it. Anyone trying to live a healthy lifestyle and stay away from obesity should have balanced meals and a varied diet. There is an old saying that says more colors on a plate also imply a healthier meal. Physical activity is a very important protective factor, not only in the prevention of obesity but also in reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis and cancer. At least 30 minutes of physical activity per day, including walking, running, cycling or swimming is highly recommended. You should also adopt healthy daily habits, such as replacing the elevator with stairs or walking instead of using your car.
When obesity becomes a problem requiring medical intervention, medications for appetite reduction can also be used. Of course, these medicines will not solve the problem by themselves but are used in combination with a prescribed diet and exercise. In fact, there is no cure other than a thorough lifestyle change. It requires consistency in diet and regular exercise.
- Malik VS, Hu FB. Obesity Prevention. In: Prabhakaran D, Anand S, Gaziano TA, et al., editors. Cardiovascular, Respiratory, and Related Disorders. 3rd edition. Washington (DC): The International Bank for Reconstruction and Development / The World Bank; 2017 Nov 17. Chapter 7. Found online at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK525156/
- Pandita A, Sharma D, Pandita D, Pawar S, Tariq M, Kaul A. Childhood obesity: prevention is better than cure. Diabetes MetabSyndrObes. 2016 Mar 15;9:83-9. doi: 10.2147/DMSO.S90783. PMID: 27042133; PMCID: PMC4801195. Found online at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4801195/
- Chan RS, Woo J. Prevention of overweight and obesity: how effective is the current public health approach. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2010 Mar;7(3):765-83. doi: 10.3390/ijerph7030765. Epub 2010 Feb 26. PMID: 20617002; PMCID: PMC2872299. Found online at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2872299/