In spite of all the modern advances in science and pharmaceutical health in the developed countries, we still face one major health concern which affects our cardiovascular health and wellbeing – obesity. Although there are a multitude of causes, the result is the same for all, almost all obese people have developed some symptoms of chronic disease by the age of 40, and most will need medical intervention by the age of 60.
Fast foods and processed foods have been blamed for the increase in obesity, due to the high energy content and low nutrient content. Physical activity has also decreased over the years helping the level of obesity rise exponentially in richer and poorer countries alike. In fact, obesity levels are higher in low income families with less education whereas healthier people are the ones who earn more money.
Labour saving devices in the home and at work mean less activity takes place throughout the day. We drive more and walk less, we have remote controls, power tools, gadgets, etc. Food is more accessible than before, we can eat out, order takeaways, have food delivered, drive through, use the internet to do our supermarket shopping and can supersize on most occasions.
We are said to be half as active as our parents by about 500-800 calories per day, and our children will be half as active as we are. That’s about the same as running a marathon each week. We all know we need to eat a bit healthier and exercise more, but as no country has yet managed to reverse the trend in the rise in obesity, achieving this would take a lot more than that.
Famine is still responsible for more human deaths than any single disease; hence the humans who could withstand famine better were more able to survive. Storing more body fat was an evolutionary advantage. Any strict diet mimicking starvation will set these mechanisms into play. Metabolism will slow down, fat will be stored, and lean mass utilised, hunger pangs will take hold and the mind will be fully occupied with finding food.
Nutrition plays a big part in being healthy and maintaining a healthy weight, however studies have shown that obese people do understand the importance of healthy eating.
A vigorous exercise routine whilst burning calories will not help an obese person lose weight if they simply keep eating too much, so exercise in isolation is not the answer. In fact after a lifetime of sedentary behaviours and a general lack of exercise, an obese person will find it hard to start and stick to a program of intensive exercise and may find it uncomfortable.
Though the environment is often to blame, there still continues to be a number of slim lean people, who live in the same environments as obese people, being subjected to the same adverts, the same peer pressure, the same availability of food and the same surroundings.
So what is it that keeps this declining minority from piling on the pounds?
Although there is evidence of a “fat gene” and animal studies have found various mutations linked to obesity, human obesity is much more complex and there are far more factors to consider then simply genetics. There are certain medical conditions that cause excessive weight gain, including hyperthyroidism, metabolic disorders, sex hormone disorders, polycystic ovaries, brain damage and congenital disorders, however this only accounts for 5% of obesity in the UK.
There are 3 main body types known to exist, namely Ectomorphs with long lean limbs, Mesomorphs with a stockier muscle-bound frame, and Endomorphs with a rounder softer shape. Though most people fall into more than one category, such as an Ecto-mesomorph, this merely accounts for the body shape, not the total quantity of fat we hold.
The early stages of pregnancy determine the quantity of fat cells the offspring will have throughout life, and that this total number usually stays consistent unless severe famine or overeating occurs.
We can diet and shrink the fat cells, but their very presence will cause immense hunger pangs and a burning desire to eat again, bringing us back to the initial weight, as with yo-yo dieting.
Also breast-fed babies generally grow slower than bottle-fed babies, and so are less likely to become obese in later life. Weaning practices also affect obesity in later life, in particular an early adiposity rebound – putting on body fat (normally occurring around 6 years of age) if occurring as early as 3 years of age, causes an excess of fat to be stored and so obesity results in later life. This ties in with a set point theory that we are born with a particular target weight, and despite our best efforts, our body’s homeostatic mechanisms will control this rigidly.
Overeating in childhood causes the existing fat cells to become full. When storage is at an all-time low, additional fat cells are formed and this level stays constant throughout adulthood. Any deviation in the actual size of the fat cell causes changes in behaviour and metabolic rate via hormonal changes, and a resulting return to our body’s “target weight”.
In conclusion, it is not impossible for obese individuals to lose body fat, but it takes a great deal of hard work and requires changing habits of a lifetime. Each pound of fat amounts to 3500 calories, but with the right healthy eating plan and a tailored training regime anything is possible.
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