Obesity is a disease that affects millions of people today. It manifests itself in both children and adults, in men and women, in developed and developing countries. We are no longer talking about “fat people”, but about patients who have a complex pathology, not in concept, but in causes and consequences. That is why from Life Length we explain everything you need to know about obesity.
In 2016 almost 40% of the adult population (people over 18 years old) were overweight. This figure amounts to over 1900 million people of which 13% suffer from obesity. These two sentences have a very important nuance that we are going to establish as a starting point: you are overweight, but obesity, which is a disease, is suffered. Obesity is a condition that consists of the excessive accumulation of fat. Overweight is determined by the Body Mass Index, which is obtained by dividing the person’s weight (in kilograms) by the height (in meters) squared. There is a scale that determines whether your BMI is normal, below or above normal. This index is used by the World Health Organization to determine whether people are overweight or obese. However, it is a figure that comes out of taking into account only two values that may or may not have to do with obesity. BMI relates height and weight, but does not take into account that weight can be due to several factors, not only to the accumulation of fat content. Muscle development, fluid retention or bone density are some of the factors that affect weight. Bodybuilders are overweight, but it would be far-fetched to think that they are obese.
Once we have established the difference between overweight and obesity, we can begin to address the causes of obesity:
The first thing we have to make clear is that there are several factors that have a direct relationship with obesity and an infinity that can intervene indirectly. On paper and attending to the simplest explanation, everything can be summarized in a simple mathematical equation: our body accumulates fat if the result of the subtraction between the caloric contribution to our body and the caloric consumption of this one is positive. In other words, we accumulate fat when we contribute more calories to our body than we burn. Now that we know this, we can explain the factors involved in this equation:
- Genetic predisposition. The harsh reality is that yes, as is usually the case with health problems, there is a genetic predisposition to share them with our closest relatives (with whom we have more DNA in common). People with obese relatives are more likely to develop the disease. So there are people who are more likely than others to accumulate fatty tissue.
- Eating habits. Usually the caloric intake of certain diets is higher than our body’s consumption, which results in fat storage. One way to end, or at least alleviate, obesity is to establish hypocaloric diets. It is important that it is a diet prepared by professionals, otherwise it can be harmful to the body. Here we take the opportunity to put an end to the false myth that obesity and malnutrition are linked, since a diet can provide many calories that will end up as fat, but not provide some essential vitamins or other elements that are essential for the proper functioning of our body.
- Lifestyle. And if in the previous section we talked about reducing caloric intake as an option, in this one we have to look at the other variable: caloric intake. By increasing our caloric intake we can compensate our caloric intake, neutralizing it and even exceeding it, forcing our body to transform fat into energy. A sedentary life, with little physical activity, leads many people to become overweight due to the accumulation of fat. This is a problem for people who already suffer from obesity because the difficulties of mobility and the rest of the physical problems that the disease entails reduce their physical activity, which means that they continue to accumulate fatty tissue.
- Age. Age is an essential factor in fat accumulation. The caloric demand of children and young people is much higher than that of adults. In addition, lifestyles tend to become more sedentary with age, making it more likely that adults will eventually become overweight. On the other hand, after the age of 35, people tend to lose muscle mass, which reduces their passive caloric intake. These data do not negate childhood obesity which, in fact, is a serious problem affecting more than 380 million people under the age of 18.
- Sex. Sex has a rather more peculiar relationship with overweight than one might think. Men, for example, have a higher caloric intake than women. On the other hand, when women reach menopause, their caloric demand is also reduced.
- Indirect factors. There are numerous situations that indirectly favor fat accumulation, either because they lead us to consume more calories or because they prevent us from burning them. Certain diseases and their treatments can interfere with metabolism or the ability to carry out physical activities, so they end up causing patients to accumulate more fat. Personal factors also have an impact, such as stress, which can lead to altered appetite and even the development of serious eating disorders. Quitting smoking, for example, produces stress that is usually relieved by eating, which is why people usually put on weight. However, it should be made clear that this counterpoint is not general to everyone and is less harmful than continuing to smoke.
On the other hand, the excessive accumulation of fatty tissues has multiple negative points for health among which are the following:
- Type 2 diabetes. Obesity increases the risk of developing diabetes by altering the body’s use of insulin to regulate blood glucose levels, which makes it easier and faster for the body to build insulin tolerance.
- Heart disease. The risk of suffering from cardiovascular problems increases with hypertension and high cholesterol, two phenomena that are directly related to obesity. High blood pressure combined with blood vessels clogged by cholesterol increases the risk of heart attack or internal bleeding.
- Fatty liver. When too much fat is attached to the liver it can become inflamed, just as it would if you had hepatitis, but without the presence of a virus. If this problem is prolonged for too long it can develop cirrhosis, liver cancer or fluid retention in the abdomen, among others.
- Arthrosis. Let’s start with the fact: being 20% overweight increases the probability of suffering from osteoarthritis by 1000%. Our bones and joints suffer much more wear and tear if they are constantly subjected to more weight than they are prepared to bear.
- Sleep apnea. Obese people have a large amount of fat accumulated in the back of the throat that hinders the flow of air, leading to apnea. Apnea is characterized by interruptions in breathing during sleep, which prevents or hinders rest and develops all the problems caused by lack of rest: hypertension, lack of concentration, headache, etc ….
It is an ailment that generates many problems that, in many cases, make recovery more difficult. For this reason, sometimes the solution is to perform surgeries that remove fat content to facilitate the patient’s mobility and allow recovery to take place.
The sedentary lifestyle and the abuse of junk food that characterize society form the perfect breeding ground for this disease to develop. It is in our hands to lead a healthy lifestyle and take care of ourselves to not only live longer, but better.