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Category: Obesity

Why Are Different Countries Obese?

Recently published studies dictate different causes and factors behind the public health epidemic of obesity, focusing on several different countries–many of which have varying reasons for their respective obesity epidemics.

The Pacific Islands, Middle East and Americas lead the way in terms of regions with the greatest obesity rates. In 2014, more than 48% of the population of the Cook Islands was classified as obese. Qatar led the way in the Middle East with 34%, followed closely by the United States at 33%, according to the World Health Organization.

Obesity is defined using a person’s body mass index, the ratio between weight and height, with a BMI of 25 to 29.9 considered overweight and over 30 obese. The number of overweight or obese infants and children under the age of 5 increased from 32 million in 1990 to 42 million in 2013, according to the World Health Organization, with numbers increasing from 4 million to 9 million in the African region alone over that period.

While physical inactivity is said to be aiding the growing rate of obesity worldwide, for example as urbanization leads to more sedentary lives, experts point out that in some populations, exercise simply isn’t a priority.

This is evident in the Middle East and China, they say, namely through perceptions of exercise and its place on residents’ list of priorities. In Kuwait, focus groups from the World Health Organization found that locals consider exercise as sport rather than something done with a group of friends or at home, according to Temo Waqanivalu, team leader of population-based prevention of noncommunicable diseases at the WHO. “There’s a whole cultural barrier,” he said.

In addition, in the Middle East overall, it’s not considered the norm for women to take part in outdoor exercise or physical activity for leisure. “Having women exercise openly is a cultural issue,” he said. Across Asia and the Middle East, Hu thinks there is a great deal of misunderstanding. “Most people are not aware of the benefits of being physically active on their health,” he said.

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1/3 of World = Overweight

A new study reports that more than two billion adults and children across the globe are overweight or obese, and suffer from related health problems. Spurred by poor nutrition and low levels of physical activity, this number equates to one-third of the world’s population.

While 2.2 billion people can be classified as overweight or obese, more than 710 million are obese: 5% of all children, and 12% of all adults, can be categorized in this segment. The United States has the greatest percentage of obese or overweight children and young adults, at 13%.

The study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, states that a growing number of people across the globe are dying from poor health, and problems linked to being overweight. “People who shrug off weight gain do so at their own risk–risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, and other life-threatening conditions,” said Dr. Christopher Murray, director of the Institute for Health Metrics and evaluation at the University of Washington, who worked on the study.

Researchers analyzed data collected between 1980 and 2015 from 68.5 billion people, and revealed that the number of people affected by obesity has doubled since 1980 in 73 countries, and continued to rise across most other countries in the analysis. Although the percentages of obese children were lower than adults, that rate at which their numbers have increased was greater–indicating greater future risk if nothing is done to alleviate and curb the growing problem.

“This raises the alarm that we may be facing a wave of obesity in the coming years across high and low income countries,” states Goodarz Danaei, assistant professor of global health at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Because obesity levels have risen in all countries, irrespective of income levels, the issue does not simply boil down to wealth. The paper reads: “Changes in the food environment and food systems are probably major drivers.”

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Obesity Causes Heart Changes—Even Among Youth

A high BMI is known to cause heart disease in mid-to-late life, but new research has revealed it can worsen cardiovascular health even in those as young as 17.

Obesity can cause poor cardiovascular health, even in the young, according to a new study.

European researchers say they’ve detected the development of cardiovascular changes known to be precursors of heart disease in those aged as young as 17 as a result of high body mass index (BMI).

The research was presented at the European Society of Human Genetics 2017 conference in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Higher than normal BMI is known to lead to cardiovascular ill-health in mid-to-late life, but there has been limited investigation of its effect in young, healthy adults.

Genomic analysis of thousands of 17-to-21-year-olds involved in the UK’s Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children found a high BMI caused significant burden on the heart’s left ventricle.

A thickening of the left ventricle in the heart, known as hypertrophy, means it has to work harder to pump blood and is a common marker for heart disease.

Dr Kaitlin Wade from the Medical Research Council Integrative Epidemiology Unit at the University of Bristol led the study and says the results support efforts to tackle the obesity epidemic from an early age in order to prevent cardiovascular disease.

“Our results showed that the causal impact of higher BMI on cardiac output was solely driven by the volume of blood pumped by the left ventricle,” Dr Wade said.

This, she says, can partly explain the causal effect of higher BMI on cardiac hypertrophy, a thickening of the heart muscle, and higher blood pressure that was observed among the participants.

“It is the first time that the nature of this relationship has been shown in a group of young adults where it has been possible to draw improved conclusions about its causation,” Dr Wade said.

“We believe that there are clear messages for cardiovascular health in our findings and we hope that they may lead to increased efforts to tackle obesity from early life.”

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Chronic Stress & Obesity: A New Perspective on “Comfort Food”

The biological connection between stress and obesity has long been suspected: during times of high anxiety and stress, people often crave ‘comfort foods,’ which are high in fat or sugar. Researchers have now found that specific hormones may play a significant role in this process: stress has been linked to biochemical changes that can trigger cravings, which lead to overeating, and ultimately result in obesity.

Specific biochemical reactions help explain this correlation: when we reach for fattening foods during stressful times, it is often an attempt to self-mediate—carbohydrates raise the body’s serotonin levels, the body’s ‘feel-good’ chemical. Researchers have also discovered that chronic stress can cause the body to release excess cortisol, a hormone critical in managing fat storage and energy use. Cortisol is known to increase appetite, and may encourage cravings for sugary and fatty foods.

More recent studies suggest that our bodies process food differently when under stress. One study found that lab mice, when fed a diet high in fat and sugar, gained significant amounts of body fat when placed under stressful conditions. Conversely, mice fed a normal diet did not gain as much weight—despite being placed under stressful conditions. Researchers linked this phenomenon to the molecule neuropeptide Y, which is released from nerve cells during stress and encourages fat accumulation. Diets high in fat and sugar appear to further accelerate the release of neuropeptide Y.

As physicians better understand the factors behind weight gain, they may be better equipped to help address the global obesity epidemic. Yet the most insidious aspect of the link between stress and obesity is that it is often self-reinforcing. When people are stressed and make unhealthy choices, they often gain weight, which only serves to further exacerbate stress.

While stress is an inevitable part of life, it does not necessarily need to lead to weight gain. By keeping portion size in mind, not allowing yourself to become too hungry, eating healthy snacks, and becoming more mindful about nutrition, we can avoid gaining weight when times are tough.

In order to gain more information surrounding nutrition, weight, and cardiometabolic disease, attend our CMHC Regional Conference Series. These one-day intensive workshops are designed to instruct participants in weight management, nutrition, and the prevention, management, and treatment of cardiovascular disease. Our upcoming agenda in Atlanta features a session titled Good Weight Management is Good Cardiometabolic Risk Management, delivered by Donna H. Ryan, MD.

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The Urgency of Obesity: “The HIV of our age”

Across the world, experts on cardiovascular health and obesity are regularly discussing the urgency regarding the global health epidemic of obesity, considered to be the ‘HIV of our age. The metaphor is eerily accurate; obesity routinely kills millions of people across the world, and costs health institutions billions of dollars—despite its preventability. A 2007 Government Foresight Report estimated that approximately half of the UK population would be obese by 2050, but researchers believe that it might occur even sooner. A report published today by Aetna International, one of the world’s leading health insurance providers, reaffirms the urgency required to limit the global fallout from rising obesity levels.

The report, titled “Globesity: Tackling the world’s obesity pandemic,” calls upon major institutions, governments, food producers, retailers, and insurance companies to collectively combine efforts in order to cooperatively tackle the growing global obesity crisis. Statistics from the World Health Organization indicate that obesity rates have more than doubled since 1980: currently, 13% of adults are classified as obese; nearly 40 meet the criteria for being overweight.

Moreover, a host of studies have found strong correlations between at least 15 cancers and obesity, in addition to an extensive list of severe health problems, including type 2 diabetes, fatty liver disease, arthritis, coronary heart disease, and stroke.

The necessity of education improvement, in order to promote healthy living, is critically pressing—particularly as the obesity pandemic begins to affect increasing numbers of children. Implementation of public education programs would begin to raise awareness, specifically concerning the strong link between obesity and heart disease. The sole way to solve the obesity crisis is through a holistic approach, one that combines health incentives, taxes, and education programs. Studies have confirmed that one of the most effective ways in which to reduce obesity is to clearly communicate information about its direct correlation with health and disease.

Like HIV, obesity has the makings of a ‘public health catastrophe’—one that must be averted at all costs.

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Failing Fertility: Obesity & Conception

A recent study has found that obese couples likely take longer to conceive.

An analysis from the U.S. National Institutes of Health suggests that when both a woman and her partner meet the criteria for obesity, their chances for pregnancy are approximately half that of a couple with normal weights.

While this research analyzes a new risk factor for obesity, previous studies have indicated a strong correlation between female obesity and reduced odds for pregnancy during a menstrual cycle—in addition to an association between men’s increased body weight and lower sperm count.

This study is particularly groundbreaking as it utilized couples hoping to get pregnant, not couples undergoing fertility treatments. Researchers took measurements of body fat before they conceived, and followed each couple for a year—or until pregnancy occurred. Moreover, many studies on fertility and body composition have previously focused on the female partner, yet these findings highlight the importance of including both partners’ weights

“Overall, obese couples were found to have approximately half the fecundability as couples with normal BMI,” wrote Rajeshwari Sundaram, from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

According to statistics, more than a third of Americans are obese, which consistently causes a variety of health issues. Obese and overweight people tend to have higher levels of inflammation in their bodies; fat cells also produce hormones that may interfere with the hormones involved in conception.

A project conducted by the Trust for America’s Health projects that by 2030, 44% of Americans will be obese.

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Less Screen Time, More Sports: Childhood Obesity & Cardiovascular Disease

A host of studies have confirmed the correlation between childhood obesity and adult cardiovascular disease, illustrating the consequences of obesity during childhood.

Because obese and overweight children are more likely to become obese adults than those who were not obese as children, they face an increased risk of developing chronic diseases such as CVD, type II diabetes, and certain cancers. Accelerated BMI (body mass index) in children puts children at the highest risk for cardiovascular disease in adulthood.

Therefore, it is critical to trace the growth of children in order to detect and prevent elevated and accelerated BMI gains during early development periods. There are pragmatic measures that parents can take to ensure that their children prevent the onset of heart disease, and lessen risk factors. Identifying opportunities to promote physical activity and a healthy diet will potentially limit the development of risk factors associated with CVD in adults, namely hypertension, high cholesterol, hyperglycemia, and being overweight or obese.

The strong correlation between obesity and CVD indicates a need for early intervention; early life is the most significant target time to address prevention and treatment of obesity. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, “It is never too early for the family to make changes that will help a child keep or obtain a healthy weight.” Both parents and physicians must encourage children to maintain a healthy weight, in addition to promoting educational materials that illustrate potential risk factors for cardiovascular disease.

Current recommendations include reducing screen time—during which children are generally physically inactive—and increasing participation in extracurricular athletics and sports. The CDC has confirmed that sources such as families, schools, communities, and the media are all highly influential in the success of the aforementioned initiatives.

Parents must model healthy behaviors for children, spurring even small changes like healthier snacks in the home, adjusting bedtime to allow for at least 9 hours of sleep per night, and ensuring at least an hour of physical activity each day.

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Obesity & Developmental Delays

OBESITY & DEVELOPMENTAL DELAYS-02A study conducted by researchers at the National Institutes of Health has found that children of obese parents are at higher risk for developmental delays, including less advanced motor skills and lower overall measures of social competence. The research, published in the journal Pediatrics, cited evidence that indicates approximately 1 in every 5 pregnant women in the United States qualifies as overweight or obese.

The investigators specifically found that children of obese mothers were more likely to fail tests of fine motor skills: the ability to control movement of small muscles, such as those in the fingers and hands. Children of obese fathers were more likely to fail measures of social competence, and those born to extremely obese couples also were more likely to fail tests of problem solving ability.

“The previous U.S. studies in this area have focused on the mothers’ pre- and post-pregnancy weight,” said the study’s primary author, Edwina Yeung, Ph.D., an investigator in NICHD’s Division of Intramural Population Health Research. “Our study is one of the few that also includes information about fathers, and our results suggest that dad’s weight also has significant influence on child development.” Read more

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Linking Sleep Disturbance & Obesity

linking sleep Recent research corroborates theories regarding the link between sleep disturbance and a range of conditions, including obesity. In the journal Nature Genetics, a group of scientists recently published evidence from a study that assessed lifestyle and environmental factors, in addition to inherited traits that affect sleep disturbance and duration—ultimately concluding that areas of the genome are linked to sleep disturbance. The team also discovered genetic links between higher levels of excessive sleepiness during the daytime, and increased measures of obesity: including body mass index and waist circumference.

While there have been previously observed connections between sleep disorders and conditions in epidemiological studies, these biological links have never before been identified at a molecular level. Dr. Martin K. Rutherr, clinical senior lecturer in cardiometabolic medicine at University of Manchester and one of the senior authors of the paper, discussed the ways in which this clinical science can help take ‘an important step forward.’ Read more

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Misperceptions About Obesity Persist

misconceptions about obesityAccording to a recent survey of 1509 Americans conducted by the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery (ASMBS) and NORC at the University of Chicago, 81% cited obesity (along with cancer) as the most serious health threat in our country. Diabetes (72%), heart disease (72%), mental illness (65%), and HIV/AIDS (46%) followed on the list.

The majority (94%) agreed that obesity increased the risk for early death, even without other health issues. Most also believed diet and exercise alone were the most effective methods for long-term weight loss, with 60% indicating they were more effective than bariatric surgery. One-third of those surveyed who were obese reported having never spoken to a physician about their weight, and only 12% of those for whom bariatric surgery may be an option said their physician made the suggestion. Read more

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