Obesity: The Silent Epidemic
Did you know that between 1980 and 2000, obesity rates doubled among adults in the U.S? This means that today, about 60 millions adults (or 30% of the adult population) in this country are now classified as obese. But it doesn’t stop there: Since 1980, the number of overweight children has doubled, and the number of obese adolescents has tripled.
Clearly, obesity is an ever-increasing health concern for men, women, and children in this country. But what is it, and how does it impact your quality of life? And perhaps most importantly, what can you do to prevent it?
What is Obesity?
According to the Obesity Action Coalition, obesity is defined as “a condition that is associated with having an excess of body fat, defined by genetic and environmental factors that are difficult to control when dieting.” Obesity is measured using Body Mass Index (BMI), which is calculated by dividing a person’s weight in kilograms by his or her height in meters squared.
Normal or healthy BMI is typically between 19 and 25, and as you approach or exceed 25, you are considered overweight. However, as soon as your BMI exceeds 30, you are considered obese. For a quick, informal calculation of your BMI, see the Obesity Action Coalition’s BMI Calculator.
What are Some of the Health Risks Associated with Obesity?
Once you are officially classified as obese, there are a number of increased health risks that come along with it. These include multiple secondary conditions that can significantly decrease your quality of life, as well as your overall life expectancy.
First, weight gain leads to hypertension (high blood pressure). In fact, with just a 10% weight gain, your blood pressure can increase by 6.5 mm. For those who are able to lose weight, we here at Advanced Family Medicine see many examples where they are no longer required to take blood pressure medication, simply due to the decrease in hypertension.
Second, excessive weight is always associated with high cholesterol levels, which can lead to the obstructions of important arteries in your heart or brain, which can result in heart attack or stroke, respectively.
Furthermore, obesity is very serious risk factor for the development of type 2 diabetes. In fact, at Advanced Family Medicine, we often see patients in their 30s with newly-diagnosed type 2 diabetes, primarily caused by their obesity. Seeing obesity-related conditions such as this is very frustrating, because it is completely preventable by working on your weight and following your physician’s orders.
Third, obesity leads to the development of a condition known as Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA), which occurs when the oxygen supply to your brain is interrupted during sleep due to the altered neck and pharynx anatomy caused by obesity. In other words, sleep apnea occurs when your throat becomes completely obstructed by “floppy” throat muscles.
With this in mind, obese individuals may experience episodes of apnea (no breathing) that last as long as 30 seconds, multiple times per night. In addition, obstructive sleep apnea can lead to cardiovascular complications such as pulmonary hypertension and congestive heart failure, a condition where the heart muscle becomes too weak to adequately pump blood.
If you’re overweight (a BMI above 25) or obese (BMI above 30), whether you know it or not, you probably have OSA, and could be at risk for all of the associated health risks. Because of the importance of diagnosing and treating sleep apnea in a timely manner, you should talk with your doctor about undergoing an evaluation.
Finally, some types of cancer have a strong association with obesity. For women, this includes endometrial, breast, ovarian and cervical cancers, while for men, this includes colorectal and prostate cancer. And it doesn’t stop there: Many obese individuals also suffer from severe back pain, degenerative joint disease, severe arthritis, not to mention the fact that obesity leads to fatty liver infiltration and to the elevation of liver enzymes.
The bottom line is this: If you think your weight is excessive, don’t wait until you’ve been diagnosed with hypertension or diabetes to address it, because these illnesses are completely preventable.
What Can You Do to Avoid Obesity?
The most effective solution for avoiding obesity is regular exercise and a balanced diet. While the solution sounds simple, we fully recognize the amount of effort involved, and that it takes a lot of hard work on your part. However, keep in mind that if you have children, you can be a positive, healthy example in their lives by making sure that they’re actively involved in sports, and that they eat very little junk food. In short, by building a healthy base for the rest of your life, you’ll be helping them to do the same.
In addition, although we know that this can be an uncomfortable experience, be sure to ask your Advanced Family Medicine physician about your BMI during each one of your visits. This way, we can catch any problems early on, which may allow us to fix them more easily.
In short, if you’re overweight or obese, take it seriously. Don’t let a completely preventable condition negatively impact your quality of life, or rob you of your time. Take action now by contacting Advanced Family Medicine today at (425) 453-6838.