sponsored by VCU Health
By J. Chevonte’ Alexander
The numbers are real. In the U.S.: 68.5% of adults are overweight or obese, 34.9% are obese; 31.8% of children and adolescents are overweight or obese, 16.9% are obese; 30.4% of low-income preschoolers are overweight or obese.
Obesity has truly become a worldwide problem, affecting countries rich and poor. One of the most recent global estimates finds that roughly 500 million adults are obese (defined as a body mass index, or BMI, of 30 or higher).
The healthy range for BMI is between 18.5 and 24.9. Overweight is defined as a BMI of 25 to 29.9, and obesity is defined as a BMI of 30 or higher. Obesity is a major cause of chronic disease, including heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes, dementia and arthritis. There is no doubt about it where there is a high prevalence of obesity, there are high rates of preventable chronic disease.
People who are obese, compared to those with a normal or healthy weight, are at increased risk for many serious diseases and health conditions, including the following:
- All-causes of death (mortality)
- High blood pressure (Hypertension)
- High LDL cholesterol, low HDL cholesterol, or high levels of triglycerides (Dyslipidemia)
- Type 2 diabetes
- Coronary heart disease
- Gallbladder disease
- Osteoarthritis (a breakdown of cartilage and bone within a joint)
- Sleep apnea and breathing problems
- Some cancers (endometrial, breast, colon, kidney, gallbladder, and liver)
- Low quality of life
- Mental illness such as clinical depression, anxiety, and other mental disorders
- Body pain and difficulty with physical functioning
So, what can we do to change this paradigm?
First, prevention should be a top priority, especially among young children and pregnant women. It is easier and more effective to prevent unhealthy weight gain than it is to reverse it later. Strategies that focus on helping every child maintain a healthy weight are critical. By giving children a healthy start, they will be on a much better trajectory for lifelong health as they age.
Second, making healthy choices an easier part of people’s daily lives is essential. While personal responsibility is an important consideration in obesity prevention, the choices families and youth make are impacted by where they live, learn,
How can I improve my health?
Although you cannot change your genes, you can work on changing your eating habits, levels of physical activity, and other factors. Try the ideas below:
Get regular physical activity
Try these tips for starting or maintaining an exercise program:
- Get at least 150 minutes (2 ½ hours) of moderately intense aerobic activity each week that raises your heart rate and makes you sweat. Brisk walking, biking (with a helmet), swimming, and playing tennis or basketball are fun choices that you can do with others for support.
- You can spread the 150 minutes out in short spurts over the week. Do house or yard chores briskly, walk the dog at a quick pace, or dance to your favorite music for at least 10 minutes at a time.
- Aim for 300 minutes (5 hours) of aerobic activity a week to prevent gradual weight gain in adulthood. If you are at a healthy weight now but used to be overweight or obese, experts encourage 60 to 90 minutes of exercise a day to keep the weight off.
Most adults don’t need to see their doctor before starting a physical activity program. However, those who should see a doctor include men older than 40 and women older than 50 who plan a vigorous program or who have either a serious health condition or risk factors for a serious health condition.
Eating healthy foods has vital health benefits, too, including weight loss. To start eating better, try these tips:
- Eat the rainbow. Make half of what’s on your plate fruit and vegetables.
- Replace refined grains with whole grains, like oatmeal, whole wheat bread, and brown rice.
- Get your protein from healthy sources, like seafood, lean meats, poultry, eggs, beans, unsalted nuts, and seeds.
- Instead of sugary drinks, choose unsweetened tea, low-fat milk, or water.
Remember, weight control is a lifelong effort. Starting now with small steps may improve your health. A healthy eating plan and regular physical activity can be steps to a healthier you.