A few years ago I remember I was at a waterpark with my sister, niece and nephew and I was shocked. If being at a waterpark doesn’t make you realize how unhealthy our society is becoming, I’m not sure what will.
With the help of Amy Guzek, MD, pediatrician, I learned a few things about obesity in this country that I hadn’t known, or realized before.
First, there’s a difference in being overweight and being obese.
Being overweight and being obese are both conditions in which an individual is considered to be above a healthy body weight for his or her height, measured by the body mass index, or BMI. However, some individuals who have a particularly high muscle mass, such as athletes, may fall into the category of overweight according to their BMI even though they do not have excess body fat.
“Obesity is directly related to the amount of extra body fat one has. Though the BMI is the most common way to identify obesity, more accurate measures of body fat and fat distribution include waist circumference (abdominal fat is a strong predictor for obesity and obesity-related diseases) and waist-to-hip ratios,” said Dr. Guzek.
Second, there are factors that can and do affect people’s health.
Second, behavior, environment, and genetic factors all contribute to obesity, as your body weight results from your genes, metabolism, lifestyle, culture, and socioeconomic status. Though your genes may not determine whether or not you will be obese, they can affect how your body accumulates, stores, and uses fat. Obesity also affects some racial groups more than others, with African Americans having the highest rates of obesity. Socioeconomic status is tied to obesity as well: women with higher incomes and/or college degrees are less likely to be obese than women with lower incomes and less education. Lower incomes make access to affordable, healthy foods such as fruits and vegetables more difficult, and less healthy foods and beverages are often cheaper and easier to obtain. Many neighborhoods and communities may make it more difficult or unsafe for both children and adults to be physically active.
Childhood obesity, which has almost tripled in the past 30 years, is also a large indicator for adult obesity and includes the same health risks as adult obesity. When children are overweight, obesity in adulthood will likely be more severe. Childhood obesity has many of the same causes as adult obesity: larger amounts of time spent watching TV and engaging with other media, such as video games, computers, and cell phones, instead of physical activity; a lack of healthy food and beverage options available for school/outside school meals; and exposure to advertisements for unhealthy foods, which impacts children’s ability to make healthy food choices.
Third, there are ways that you can help! Behavior and environment play a critical part in obesity and are the best areas for prevention and management. Try some of these tips to help prevent or manage obesity for yourself and your family:
- Try replacing sugary beverages and foods that are high in fat and sugar with water, fruits, and vegetables.
- Try to make time for physical activity every day; going for a brisk 30-minute walk five days a week will help keep you in shape and boost your mood.
- The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends NO screen time under age 2. It should be limited to less than 2 hours for all children, ideally none on school days unless a computer is needed to complete homework.
- Share your family history with your doctor. He or she can help determine if you are at high risk for obesity and can help you come up with a plan to prevent or manage excess weight gain.
If someone who needs help with their weight is reading this and it’s made a difference – then hey, the choice I made to write this was worth it!
Be good to one another, be kind, live and love life!