Since we are about to roll into what I call “the season”, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years, Super Bowl … I figured we should just start now. Am I fat? That is a question that everyone already knows the answer to and never really needs to ask. It’s something that no one ever really talks about yet it is the most common thing in our country. Seriously. Obesity is the number one medical condition in our country affecting about 40% of our population. Obesity is the condition of being grossly fat or overweight. Obesity comes from the Latin word obesus “having eaten until fat”, from ob meaning “away, completely” and esus from edere “to eat”.
From a medical standpoint, obesity has a technical definition. First, we need to clear a few things. Body Mass Index. This is another fancy way of saying body size measurement. It is the ratio or comparison of the weight of a person to their height. You know the old, “I’m just short for my weight statement”. You can go online and google BMI calculators and plug in your numbers to see what your BMI is. In fact, do it now. I’ll wait. Obesity is defined as having a body mass index or BMI of 30 or more. What was yours?
When a person is overweight this creates a lot of problems for the body. Bodies are meant to operate at a certain size. In fact, the ideal BMI is actually about 25. What’s yours again? When they start to get bigger it puts additional stress on all systems and organs or parts of the body. Literally, every body part is in some way adversely or negatively affected when a person is overweight or obese. Heart, lungs, liver, blood vessels, joints, I could go on and explain in detail how and why but take my word for it. Bodies just have to work much harder to function and break down much faster when a person is overweight.
Okay, so we’re fat. Why? Who can we blame? Alright. Confession time. Every medical doctor in this country has to renew their medical license every two years. A part of this involves completing CME (continuing medical education) courses. I have been known to procrastinate at times. And I on occasion have been known to wait until the last minute to complete mine. Don’t judge me. Anyway, for my last renewal, I decided to look at this issue of weight because I see this constantly, every day at the clinic. I figured it would be most useful to review this problem and other common related issues as it is so prevalent and in some way affects a big part of my workday. Okay back to blaming someone.
What causes obesity? Simply it comes from a lifestyle of taking in more calories than what you are burning. That’s it. Nothing else. Over the course of a year or any unit of time, a person simply eats more than they burn to the point where the body gets really big and fat.
In doing my courses for renewing my license I learned some interesting things. One is when this obesity problem all started to take place. When did we as a country start to get really fat? The 80s. Well, what the hell happened in the 80s? A few things I can see as something we can all blame. Our diets changed in the 80s.
That’s when we started this ridiculous “fat-free” craze. All of a sudden, eating fat was bad. So we stopped. (Definitely will go over diets in more detail in another post). We started to cut out fats. Bad. Bodies actually need fats for a bunch of reasons. But one key thing with fats is that they actually make you feel full faster. So when you eat a balanced meal with some fat in it you will stop eating and feel full sooner than when you eat a meal without fat. So when you eat all this fat-free stuff you will actually consume more food. So yes. Fat-free diets ultimately lead to consuming more food and calories which guess what, make you more fat.
The second cause of obesity is the reduction of activity level. We just stopped burning calories like we used to. The 80’s. What happened? TV. Electronics. This is when we all started really sitting and watching TV as a nation. I mean come on, we can all list the shows. Who did not sit and watch The Dukes of Hazard on CBS Friday nights, or Dallas(who shot JR by the way?), Cosby Show, Saturday morning cartoons … I could go on. But essentially we changed as a culture, shifting to a way more sedentary lifestyle. Video games started to take over. Remember Atari, Nintendo. This is when the home video game consoles started to come out. So you would just sit there and play video games. Same thing with music. Instead of listening and dancing you started to sit and watch the music videos. That’s right, I am now blaming MTV. Anyway, I think you get my point. In the 80s there was the shift where our diets just got stupid and we stopped moving our bodies. And it hasn’t stopped.
So now that we know the how and why, what can you do? Shift the lifestyle. Go back to the 70s. Just kidding. Not really. Go back to eating a balanced diet. A little bit of everything. Go back to being active. When you finish reading this put your phone down and actually do something physical. Go outside and play for an hour. In fact, make a deal with yourself. For every hour of sitting with a phone or computer, you now owe yourself 10 minutes of exercise or some activity. I hope you get my point. It takes a shift to reverse this. All the fad diets and exercise trends won’t do it. It’s a complete shift in lifestyle that is needed to handle this. It doesn’t happen overnight. But it does happen when you decide to change.
I hope this helps especially since we are heading into “the season”. And as always if you feel you need some help with regards to this or anything feel free to stop in.
Rich Wallace MD