Fighting the obesity epidemic

Obesity is a growing epidemic that is sweeping through the developed world, threatening millions with disability and death. Epidemic may sound exaggerated, but the facts speak for themselves. One billion people worldwide are overweight, and approximately 154 million people worldwide are obese. More than 20 percent are over their ideal body weight, including more than 50 percent of all Americans. Obesity is especially prevalent among women with lower incomes. More disturbing is the prevalence of childhood obesity, which has jumped dramatically over the past 20 years and now accounts for a doubling in the incidence of diabetes, a five-fold increase in sleep apnea and a three-fold increase in gallbladder disease.

Obesity is a major risk factor for hypertension, stroke, heart disease, diabetes and possibly certain forms of cancer. Obesity exacts a greater toll on health and health care costs than either smoking or drinking. In the United States alone, the direct medical cost of obesity-related diseases accounts for 6 percent of the nation’s entire health care budget.

What would classify someone as being obese? The measurement is based on body mass index (BMI). Overweight would include those with a BMI of 25-29, and someone would be considered obese if his or her BMI is greater than 30.

What is the reason for this epidemic? One major factor is the prevalence and availability in the food environment. In today’s society, people are busy and tend to lead toward fast food. Lower BMIs are connected to a time when people were able to shop more at a grocery store.

Another factor is lack of physical activity. It has been shown that there is a correlation that adults with a higher level of physical activity can eliminate the increased mortality rate that is associated with being overweight and obese. It all goes back to the busy lives of adults in today’s society. People believe they don’t have time for exercise, and that combined with the economic crisis Americans face today, people might feel they can’t afford good food or gym memberships.

So what can we do about it? Effective weight management for individuals and groups at risk of developing obesity involves a range of long-term strategies. These include prevention, weight maintenance, management of co-morbidities and weight loss. These strategies should be a part of an integrated approach, which includes support for healthy diets and regular physical activity. Some key elements include:

Promoting healthy behaviors to encourage, motivate and enable individuals to lose weight by eating more fruits and vegetables, as well as nuts and whole grains

Engaging in daily moderate physical activity for at least 30 minutes

Cutting the amount of fatty, sugary foods and beverages in the diet

If you or your family are struggling with obesity, the Blount Memorial Weight Management Center has several tools to assist you.

The center offers three types of weight loss surgeries including gastric bypass, gastric band and gastric sleeve. The center also offers a non-surgical approach called Winning at Weight Loss.

For more information, contact the Weight Management Center at 865-977-4673.

Dana Bradley is a registered nurse, certified bariatric nurse and bariatric coordinator for the Blount Memorial Weight Management Center.

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