There was once a time when being overweight was considered beautiful and a sign of affluence. Think back to the era of Rubens or Victorian times. Women were adored and painted in all their ‘obese’ glory, with the subtleness and softness of their body fat a point of beauty in the former, while in the later to be overweight meant that you had money to eat – being thin was for the servants and the lower class who could not afford to buy food. Times have changed dramatically and in a time where there is an abundance of food (either fresh or processed) available in Western societies, maintaining a healthy weight is more important than ever. Yet obesity is now a health concern for many, both adults and children alike and continues to rise, not just in Australia but internationally as well.
According to World Health Organisation data (updated in March 2011), worldwide obesity rates have more than doubled in the past 31 years, since 1980. What makes this even more startling is that more than 1.5 billion adults (over 20 years of age) and 43 million children (under 5 years of age) are suffering from obesity – a preventable condition.
These results are staggering especially when in Australia and other developed nations such as America and the UK, it is possible to prevent the development of obesity through lifestyle choices. Sadly, lifestyle choices regarding health, nutrition, and exercise are left up to the individual and not everyone is equipped to make the best choice, either for themselves or their families.
Factors that influence the development of obesity
For many people, the idea that someone ‘chooses’ to ‘allow’ themselves to become obese is difficult to understand. Yet there are many factors which result in a person being obese. In general, obesity is not a choice but is something that creeps up on a person due to many years of poor eating habits, limited exercise, low self-esteem, and in many cases, emotional eating in which an individual uses food like a drug.
At the most basic level, obesity or being overweight is the result of consuming more calories than an individual requires. When this occurs consistently, day after day, year after year, the result is a gradually increase in weight. It is not uncommon for doctors, dieticians or personal trainers to be told by someone with a weight problem that they didn’t realise they had ‘gotten so big’. It can and does creep up on many people until they realise their health is at stake.
However the development of obesity is not just about calories. Changes in food production, the introduction of an array of processed foods (often high in fat, calories, and chemical fillers), combined with lifestyle changes such as labour-saving machines, more ‘sit-down’ office positions, and less physical activity throughout the day also contributes to rising obesity rates.
The health risks of obesity
There is no question that obesity increases a person’s risk of other lifestyle conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, stroke, cancer, and arthritis. There is also little doubt that rising obesity rates place pressure on the health care system. But obesity is not just about the effect on governments or health systems. In addition to contributing to the development of other lifestyle conditions, obesity can and does have a significant impact on the emotion health of the sufferer and increasing the risk of death or permanent impairment.
The risks to obese children are just as significant and include not only the increased risk of lifestyle conditions but also breathing problems, hypertension, fractures, and of course the emotional impact of school yard bullying.
In spite of the serious implications of being obese, there are many steps that can be taken not just by individuals but by businesses, communities, governments to help reduce the rates of obesity both nationally and internationally.
There are many ways that obesity prevention can take place, and support and education are ideal places to start. For many people a lack of understanding of nutrition, exercise, and healthy food choices play a big part in the development of obesity as does socio-economic status. For people who lack cooking skills or nutritional knowledge it is much easier to buy pre-packaged and processed food than to try and prepare a healthy and nutritious meal.
While obesity prevention at its core involves reducing a person’s daily calorie intake and increasing the amount of exercise they do, education is also important. You cannot expect a person with no understanding of the basics of nutrition to know what it means to reduce saturated fats, increase unsaturated fats, limit simple sugars while increasing whole grains and complex carbohydrates, choose low GI foods, or to eat quality, lean proteins.
For obesity prevention to occur both here at home and globally, communities and governments needs to find a way to reintroduce quality, fresh foods at affordable prices, and educate children and adults alike about cooking, nutrition, and exercise. While it may look as if obesity is an individual problem the solution is anything but. Support, time, and education is needed from all areas if the world’s obesity are to be successful in losing weight.
If you or know someone that needs help with obesity or significant weight-loss please contact us or see staff in the club for more information.
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