By Claire Stevens and Erin Benedict,
Scientists continue to learn more and more about the harmful and potentially life-threatening risks associated with obesity, but research from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey shows that obesity has been steadily increasing for years now.
Bruce Watkins, Associate at the UC Davis Department of Nutrition and Emeritus Professor of Nutrition and Food Sciences at Purdue University, explains that the causes of obesity are complex.
Watkins breaks down the main components that factor into someone’s weight and body makeup into three categories: genetics, then eating behaviors, and finally activity levels.
Someone’s genetics affect how and where the body stores mass, appetite, and many other factors. Some people can be more disposed genetically to be overweight or obese than others.
Food behavior and eating factors affect people’s weight too. If more calories are consumed than are burned, weight increases.
However, eating behavior is not as simple as just that.
“There’s no bad foods. There’s bad amounts of foods,” Watkins said.
If you drink one soda per week as opposed to one soda per day the sugar count and calorie count difference is substantial. Eating patterns are hard to unlearn and only get harder as you get older.
Watkins also notes sugar as part of the problem.
“Heaven’s sakes, we’ve got too much sugar in food.” Sugar is not the whole problem but decreasing sugar intake can be part of the solution.
Physical activity burns more calories and thus can help increase the ratio of calories burned versus calories consumed. Watkins also explained that muscle takes more calories to sustain than fat, so by building muscle mass a person also burns more calories at rest.
Maintaining a regimen of physical activity can be hard.
“It’s like brushing your teeth everyday,” Watkins said, “You really need to make an effort to work out.”
The causes of obesity are complex and the risks are high. Obesity can lead to cardiovascular, high blood lipids, joint problems and diabetes.
Obesity can also cause metabolic syndrome which Watkins says can increase risks that may lead to heart disease and even cancer. In some cases these may be fatal.
Still, obesity rates continue to rise.
Assistant professor of nutrition at UC Davis Gerardo Mackenzie explains the increase in obesity can be attributed to several factors.
“These include increased access to calorie-rich, nutrient-poor highly processed convenient foods, as well as an increasingly sedentary lifestyle,” according to Mackenzie.
While the risks of obesity may be plain to see, the solution is just as complicated if not more than the causes.
Watkins recommendations include increasing activity level and then slowly looking at controlling your diet. These transitions can be very hard but offer a chance to make progress over time.
However, Mackenzie notes that the solution is complex.
“In order for this to be truly successful on a population level, however, policy strategies that influence the affordability and accessibility of healthy nutritious food for all members of the population, regardless of socioeconomic status, are paramount.”