Obesity is one of the greatest public health challenges of the 21st century and is also one of the largest contributing factors to chronic disease and ill health in the world. In Europe alone obesity rates have tripled since the 1980s and in Ireland over 60% of the population is either overweight or obese. Furthermore weight gain and obesity is now evident in children as young as 3 years of age..
There are several reasons for the worrying increase one of which is the cultivation of an 'obesogenic environment' where unhealthy food is encouraged and physical activity discouraged. With the rapid advances in technology and the internet, social networking and computer games both adults and children are more likely found in front of a screen than taking a walk or playing football of an evening or after school. It has been shown also that excessive TV watching can actually lower a person's BMR as the complete inactivity is likened to a trance like state.
As well as portion sizes increasing over the years, fast food outlets offer 'super-size' options, free toys with meals and other powerful advertising and marketing campaigns aimed at children, these can be difficult for parents to refuse . The global food industry is a powerful machine with the range and choice of cheap, processed 'convenience' foods increasing all the time. Busy working mothers can find it easier to put a frozen pizza or ready meal into the oven than prepare a meal from scratch using fresh, nutritious, whole food ingredients.
The increase in rates is not confined to the wealthier European countries either. Globalisation has caused the poorer countries to move up the income scale, gain improved access to other foods and move away from their more traditional diet high in grains, fruit and vegetables to the average Western diet which is high in sugar and fatty processed foods.
Studies have shown that the heavier people become the more likely they are to underestimate their weight. A larger waistline is now the new 'normal' and overweight people can have a distorted perception of their size. The word obese also carries an extreme connotation which can be frightening for people to admit to. It may seem insurmountable to them if the problem is acknowledged, or they may be disillusioned with how to fix the problem and be fearful or misinformed that the only solution may be surgery, drugs or extreme dieting.
Studies have also shown that those over 45 can be more prone to overweight. Why is this? Well life can simply get in the way for many and family or work pressures and obligations can leave no time for exercise or addressing dietary issues. Women may also carry baby weight that they never quite lose that increases with each child. In addition to this a person's metabolic rate naturally decreases as they get older meaning they have a lower calorie requirement; if food intake is not also adjusted then weight gain will occur. Muscle tone also drops when people reach their 40s and muscle mass is lost. This can be corrected with resistance training but if it is not then again calories requirements drop and dietary changes need to be made to prevent weight gain.
Levels of overweight have then been shown to decrease in the over 65's. Again the reasons for this can be many and varied. People in their late sixties are most likely retired and may find themselves with more time to dedicate to their health or to take some exercise. Their hunger levels may naturally drop as part of the aging process, their sense of smell and taste can become dulled which can decrease appetite and the appeal of food. The wearing of dentures or effects of prescription medication can make eating uncomfortable or less desirable. If a person is widowed and living alone it can reduce motivation for preparing and eating a meal and decreasing mobility can make it more difficult for them to shop for groceries.
The issue of weight gain and obesity is a complex one; it is rarely solely a matter of excess calories but a combination of social and economic factors, genetics, age, insufficient sleep , poor motivation and a lack of understanding of what a healthful diet should actually comprise of.
If you or a loved one are overweight or obese we can help you identify some rogue genes that may contributing to the problem.