What is Obesity?

As the increase of illnesses and diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, strokes, even depression and many more continue there appears to be one common factor amongst many of the sufferers-obesity. But who is to blame for this problem? Is there any one source we can pin the responsibility to, or is it a mixture of many?

In January 2008 nearly a quarter of adults in the UK were obese, as were 24% of children between the ages of 2 and 15.

What is Obesity?

A definition of obesity from http://www.nhsdirect.nhs.uk/articles/article.aspx?articleId=265&sectionId=1 describes obesity as being a condition where “a person is carrying too much body fat for their height and sex.” This happens when a person eats more calories than they are burning off over a period of time. At this weight it has increased so much it is the point of endangering their health.

Healthcare professionals all over the world use BMI checks to discover whether a person is of a healthy weight, underweight, overweight or obese. Body Mass Index (BMI) is calculated by dividing weight (in kilograms) by height (in metres squared.)

I have included a recommended BMI chart from the cancer research website http://info.cancerresearchuk.org/healthyliving/obesityandweight/bodymassindex/

* under 18.5 is underweight

* 18.5-25 is healthy weight

* 25-30 is overweight

* 30-35 is obese

* Over 35 is morbidly obese.

Obesity: Caused by Parents?

Lightspeed Research performed a global survey in June 2006 which revealed that nearly 3 out of every 4 respondent blamed parents for the rise of obesity in children. Others see extreme cases of overfeeding as “a form of abuse or neglect.” Why though, should parents be blamed?

Parents, especially of younger children control nearly everything in their lifestyle, including what they eat, what exercise they do, and how much television is watched. The food a child is brought up on will have an impact on what it eats as it grows up. If a child is taught from a young age to eat healthily, it is more likely to continue with that into adulthood. However, eating patterns have changed, what with both parents working, sometimes it may be hard to prepare meals and monitor what a child is eating, and so children are eating a lot of snacks and ready meals. Also, many families seldom sit down together to eat a meal, which makes keeping track of what a child eats even harder.

The BBC reports of a consultant paediatrician, Dr Tabitha Randell, who thinks “some parents are killing their children with their kindness.” At her clinic she treats an increasing number of children who are overweight. She blames the perception of parents for the rise. One extreme case she dealt with saw a child aged two and a half years who weighed more than four stone. She states the parents believed the daughter “she was big-boned and they were too. I think the perception of parents is a very real problem. If you see every other child in the playground with their belly hanging over their trousers you think that’s normal.”

However, parents are not with the child all through their life. Especially as the child becomes more independent, and starts to live on their own the parents are very rarely around, and the children make the decisions of what they eat and of the quantities as well. Not all obese people start to become over weight as a child, and as adults they have the option to deal with their weight issue and recognise it as a problem, whereas as children it might be more difficult.

Obesity: Caused by Fast Food?

Fast food such as ready meals and fast food chains are rapidly increasing in popularity. They have a low cost, low mess and are ready within minutes of you deciding to eat. This is an advantage to those who work long hours and just need something quick when they get home, or when travelling to buy a “Big Mac” is often the easiest method to keep a child quiet. However, “junk” food, according to scientists, is addictive, some say even as addictive as heroin.

Dr Hoebel performed some experiments on rats to discover whether his theory that obesity was caused by people becoming dependant on the sugar and fat in fast food was correct. He found that “The implication is that some animals – and by extension some people – can become overly dependent on sweet food,” He said that they found “rats fed a diet containing 25% sugar are thrown into a state of anxiety when the sugar is removed….similar to those seen in people withdrawing from nicotine or morphine” They say this is due to the release of opioids – chemicals in the brain – that reduce the feeling of being full.

Michael Schwartz, an endocrinologist at the University of Washington in Seattle explains “Their brain loses its ability to respond to these hormones as body fat increases,” Dr. Sarah Leibowirz, a neurobiologist at Rockefeller University, New York also agrees with this theory, that the exposure to fatty foods might change the hormonal system to crave more fat. She also has performed studies on rats, and these have also shown that whilst the rats were fed on a high fat diet, they became more resistant to leptin-the hormone that stops eating. This suggests that early exposure to these fatty foods can “reconfigure” children’s bodies so they always chose fatty foods, or predispose them to always needing fatty products.

However, as Dr. Hannah Theobald, a nutrition scientist from the British Nutrition Foundation states “It’s hard to translate the findings…as they’ve been carried out on rats in the laboratory.” This suggests that it is hard to create any firm conclusions from this evidence, as there are many other factors to consider, and there is a vast difference in the behaviour of humans and rats.

Obesity: Caused by Technology?

Technological advances could be another cause of the epidemic. People are becoming lazy, as there is no need to walk anywhere as many households in the UK own their own car, with many families owning more than two. And it is not just the advances in vehicle technology that can be to blame. Computer games and television means that people spend less time doing sporting activities and going out, as they, especially children, prefer to be at home on their numerous games consoles.

Professor Kate Sullivan says “We have seen an increase in children spending less time playing outdoors and more time in front of the TV, playing computer games or transfixed by the text messages on their mobile phones.”She added that they were worried that “children and young people simply don’t spend enough time outdoors running around, cycling, climbing trees or playing sports.”

In the past, work could be a very strenuous thing, involving a lot of physical exercise, especially in the agricultural business, however now the tractors and computers do all the work.

On the other hand, video games manufacturer Nintendo has created a games console which allows the user to do exercise whilst playing: the Nintendo Wii, as has Sony with the Eye Toy. On the wii for example, you can play tennis whilst mimicking the real life moves. In addition to this, the advances in technology can also help to promote healthier living, by using advertising and cleverly marketed games which encourage a healthy way of life.

Obesity: caused by Advertising?

Both fast food and technology rely on advertising to get sales, and in the current business obsessed state of the country, sales are everything. The problem with this is that as large companies are getting more money because more people are buying their products, so they are highly unlikely to stop.

As mentioned earlier under the section on technology, people are watching more and more TV so people are taking advertising into account a lot more, so people are more likely to buy the products that could potentially be contributing to obesity.

Unfortunately, although it would help cut down on nationwide obesity, it is not realistically possible to stop companies from advertising their products, let alone somehow distinguish the ones that potentially cause obesity. However, some chains such as Sainsbury’s have started going to lengths to make people more aware about the health implications of their products, by showing what is good and bad for them. If more advertisers started bringing in ideas similar to this then the public would have a better idea of if a product is likely to contribute to obesity.

Obesity: Caused by Willpower?

One obvious person to blame for any one individual being obese is themselves. Without them putting the food into their mouths, or not doing the correct amount of exercise, they wouldn’t become overweight. The individual should be able to recognise when they are full, and whether the portion sizes they consume is too much.

However, temptation is a very powerful thing, and sometimes if the food is in front of you it may be hard to resist. Also, linking back to the point I made earlier on fast foods, the portion size included may be too large for the consumer, however they may be unknown to this fact. It should be made clear who the product is designed for, giving a child and adult portion is not going to help their futures.

Obesity: Caused by Binge Eating?

Binge eating is a medical disorder,”characterised by a sense of having lost control over eating.” Sufferers usually find themselves eating large amounts of food over a short period of time. The guilt and even disgust felt after this “binge” creates self-loathing, and in order to rid themselves of this feeling, they eat more. This is often both a cause and an effect of the disorder, and usually calls attention to original physiological issues.

Binge eating is a mental disorder, but it is also triggered by the effect that overeating has on the body. Binge eating causes a surge of blood glucose, which stimulates the pancreas into producing insulin – a hormone naturally produced by the body to regulate the amount of glucose in the blood. This means that after the initial high, blood sugar levels actually fall rapidly, which sends a false message to the brain that we need more food in order to top up glucose levels. Cravings for sugary foods that will provide a quick glucose fix continue, and binge eaters may therefore consume large quantities of food even when not hungry.

Obesity: Caused by schools?

There are many reasons as to why schools could be blamed for obesity, both direct and indirect. Reasons such as; school dinners, packed lunches, the school journey or just a lack of physical exercise during the school day. One study found that less than half the children asked walked to school or did exercise at break or lunch, with girls having the least inactivity.

Parents tend to overindulge their children whilst packing a school lunch, wanting their children full so they can concentrate their best. However, many lunchboxes lack the healthy elements, fruit and salad and yogurts being replaced by crisps and chocolate bars. Even the substantial foods such as sandwiches are being left out.