Obesity: Combating it the Right Way

Gone are the days when the whole family would sit around the dining table and enjoy a lavish spread of meal. Now calories and varied tastes rule the dinner table and ruin a great time of togetherness. Pizzas and pastries have taken precedence over puris and gulab jamuns among the younger generation. Combine the shift in eating habits and the comforts of modern life and obesity emerges as one of the greatest problems facing the developed countries.

Fat, which has twice the potential energy of carbohydrate and protein, is deposited in the body as a buffer stock to be used in future in times of need. When the storage of fat exceeds a limit, it gives rise to obesity. Obesity greatly impairs health and it has been shown that people who are 30 per cent or more overweight run increased risks of diseases like diabetes, arthritis etc. It can be rightly called a disease as it leads to a plethora of problems. A person’s level of obesity can be measured through the body mass index or the waist hip ratio which is preferred by some researchers. The BMI or Body Mass Index is calculated by dividing the weight in kilograms by the person’s height in square meters. The BMI calculation can be compared with the range of weight classification which runs as: less than 20 – underweight; 20 to 25 is desirable weight; 25 to 30 is overweight; more than 30 is obese; and more than 35 is very obese. An alternative method of calculating obesity is the WHR or Waist – Hip Ratio which is a better indicator of central adiposity and, thus, a better indicator of obesity related diseases. A WHR of less than 94 cm for women and less than 104 cm for men is considered ideal.

Having a BMI of more than 30 can be damaging to health. It is generally accepted by the medical profession that people who are obese are more likely to develop coronary heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, high blood pressure and some types of cancer. When the extra weight is lost through sensible dieting, most of the health problems associated with obesity are removed.

Research in obesity has shown a familial tendency which is usually due to the family eating habits but a genetic susceptibility is also being probed. Some suggestions of disturbance in endocrine system have also been proposed; especially the role of chemicals like ‘Leptin’ which act on the hypothalamus to control food intake. It has also been suggested that the AD-36 virus, which causes cold-like symptoms, affects food-energy absorption and more than doubles the normal level of body fat, although as yet this is far from proven.

To control weight, several measures have been suggested like diet regimes, slimming pills and even surgery. Many diet regimes have been proposed but there is no scientific evidence that they are successful. Slimming pills containing Dextroamphetamine or its derivatives have been tried but they were not effective. Moreover, they are addictive. Surgical procedures used to aid weight loss include intestinal bypass and gastric bypass. In the former operation, a length of intestine is removed to reduce absorption of nutrients. This operation has been largely abandoned because it produced severe side effects, such as liver damage and chronic diarrhoea, and caused several deaths. In the gastric-bypass procedure, which is only performed on extremely obese people, most of the stomach is closed off with surgical staples. Only a small pouch remains to receive food, thereby greatly reducing the person’s eating capacity Excessive dieting may increase the prevalence of eating disorders, such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia, and even obesity. Being underweight is also a risk to health, as it can increase the risk of conditions such as osteoporosis in women. Between 5 to 18 per cent of known sufferers of anorexia nervosa die of starvation. The condition may also lead to abnormalities in the menstrual cycle. This, together with loss of body mass, may lead to osteoporosis in later life, and increased susceptibility to infection due to an impaired immune system. It may also impair mental processes, which are usually restored if the condition abates and body weight is restored. People with the condition may also exhibit the practice, known as bulimia, of ingesting large quantities of food and then eliminating them through self-induced vomiting or by using laxatives in order to remain thin. Repeated vomiting depletes the body of fluids and of the element potassium and the disturbance can adversely affect heart function.

Thus, obesity is a serious problem but the correct measure should be taken to combat it with the help of a qualified doctor’s help, otherwise you might just ruin your life.

Aditi Raman

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