Obesity is a major public health concern across the world. A largely preventable disease, obesity along with overweight accounts for more than a third of the global population. If this trend continues, it is estimated that around 38% of the world’s population will be overweight, plus around 20% will be obese by 2030. The current most widely used criteria for classifying obesity is the body mass index (BMI) which is calculated as body weight in kilograms divided by height in meters squared. The World Health Organization (WHO) has defined overweight as having a BMI between 25.0 and 29.9 kg/m2; and obesity as having a BMI greater than 30.0 kg/m2.
Obesity is associated with an increased risk of nearly every chronic condition right from diabetes and dyslipidemia to poor mental health. Its impacts on the risk of stroke and cardiovascular disease, osteoarthritis, depression, and certain cancers are significant. So knowing about the causes of obesity and factors that put you at high risk of increased weight can help you to lower your risk of obesity-related health complications.
What Are The Causes Of Obesity?
There are numerous factors that predispose you to obesity which include family history, genetics, and lifestyle. Hence knowing these risk factors can indirectly help you to prevent obesity.
1. Genetics: There is a strong association between obesity and genes. It is observed that children of obese parents are at a higher risk of becoming obese as compared to those of lean parents. There are more than 60 relatively common genetic markers which increase the susceptibility to obesity. However, genes are not to be completely blamed as there are other factors such as diet and lifestyle which also ups your risk of obesity.
2. Unhealthy diet: “You are what you eat” — the old proverb perfectly fits the bill as diet plays a major role in weight gain and obesity. Heavily processed foods which are loaded with fats and sugar stimulate the reward centers in the brain (which are a group of neural structures that are responsible for pleasure). When these centers are stimulated, neurotransmitters such as dopamine is released. This gives a feeling of pleasure and comfort and leads to food addiction. This, in turn, makes you crave more of junk foods, ultimately causing you to put on weight. Moreover, these foods are high in calories and low in nutrients, which cause unhealthy eating and the accumulation of body fat.
Limit the intake of red and processed meats, refined grains, sweets or desserts, sugary beverages, carbonated drinks, etc. Instead fill your platter with fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish, poultry, and salad dressing to help you keep your weight in check and prevent excess weight gain.
3. Sedentary lifestyle: It goes without saying that technology has become an integral part of our lives. But thanks to this technology and our lifestyle which is also a common cause of obesity. Wondering how? For example, access to information through computers, mobile phones, and TVs has reduced physical activity and promoted weight gain. Similarly, lack of time and energy after work to prepare home cooked meals, especially in families where both parents work has indirectly contributed to the rise of “fast food restaurants” and thus, obesity.
Given the erratic schedule and odd lunch hours, it becomes difficult to keep a tab on what you eat and where you eat. However, getting a lunch box from home can help you to cut down on the excess oil, salt, sugar, and spices, which in turn can help you eat healthily. Also, instead of using a vehicle to get your groceries, walking to a store can help. Walking while speaking on a phone or taking frequent breaks can help you to avoid sitting too long, which is a key contributor to weight gain and sedentary lifestyle.
4. Physical inactivity: How many days in a week do you workout? How often do you get up from your seat in your 9-5 job? When was the last time your child went out to play? Do your parents ever go for a walk? Well, lack of active lifestyle and no exercise can make you put on weight and lead to obesity in the long run. Moreover, increased screen time which has replaced physical activity is one of the known culprits for high rates of obesity in children.
Hence, it is wise to limit your screen time and increase your time spent outdoors. Exercise every day and if not possible, then you can try walking, yoga or meditation, or join some dance class to help you burn calories.
5. Lack of sleep/sleepiness: Shocked? Yes, lack of sleep or excessive sleeping can also lead to weight gain and obesity. Studies have reported that sleeping less than 6 hours a day or more than eight hours a day can cause weight gain in adults and adolescents. Children who sleep more than ten hours in a day are at an increased risk of obesity in adulthood. According to a study in the American Journal of Public Health, women who slept 5 or fewer hours per night were 32% more likely to gain 15 or more kilograms than were those who slept for 7 to 8 hours.
So it is important to ensure that you get your daily dose of sleep, which is around seven to eight hours per day to reduce your risk of obesity and lead a healthy life.
(The article is reviewed by Dr. Lalit Kanodia, General Physician)
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