Examining the Growing Problem of Obesity

2 obese women sitting in a parkIt’s no secret that the rate of obesity in North America is continuing to rise and will likely continue to do so for the foreseeable future.  It’s now been shown that in Canada, 1 in every 4 adults and 1 in every 9 children aged 6-17 are now obese.

Even the obese are getting fatter, as more Canadians are becoming morbidly obese (BMI of 40+) every year.  It’s estimated that about 3% of Canadians have fallen into this category of extreme obesity, an almost 3% increase in the last 30 years.

The question everyone wants to know is why? Why do so many people struggle with making healthy choices in their life?  Why don’t alarm bells go off in a person’s mind when their weight gets out of control? And why don’t they do anything about it?  These people just need to move more and eat less; pretty simple right?  If you’ve ever struggled with your weight or have ever worked with weight loss clients, you know that the problem with obesity goes well beyond the old “calories in and calories out” philosophy.  While it’s true that obese individuals are usually guilty of poor lifestyle choices, obesity is more complex than that.

I’m talking about all of the lifestyle factors that contribute to obesity.  Excluding individuals with confirmed thyroid dysfunction, mental health issues or any other medical condition, the following 6 factors are, in my opinion, by far the leading contributor the obesity epidemic.

1. Improper sleep patterns

Sleep deprivation can include both acute (infrequent) and chronic (frequent) states. Either way, you will experience daytime sluggishness, sleepiness and appetite irregularity. Many people who are routinely sleep deprived, complain of feeling hungry throughout the day, even when adequately fed. Sleep restriction may also interfere with the body’s ability to metabolize carbohydrates, leading to high blood glucose levels and ultimately more fat storage. Sleep disorders, such as sleep apnea, are quite common in obese populations and are exacerbated by equally common reports of low back pain, which can make sleep difficult.

2. High levels of stress

Even with all our modern conveniences, we still can’t seem to find enough hours in the day to get our lives in balance, and the net result is stress. Is it really a case of too many things to do? Or is it just a lack of priorities? Whatever the reason, stress can contribute to weight gain in many ways. These include consistent bouts of emotional eating, resulting in binges on “comfort food” that are typically of the refined, processed and calorie dense variety. Increased fat storage in the abdominal area has also been linked to high stress and deposits  around the internal organs and pose the greatest health risk compared to other areas of the body. As with sleep deprivation, stress stimulates the release of the “fat storage” hormone cortisol making it more difficult to assimilate glucose and utilize body fat stores.

3. Lack of fitness

At any age or ability, everyone should have a basic level of physical fitness. Mobility, strength, muscular endurance, cardiovascular fitness, and flexibility are all important measures when quantifying your true level of physical fitness. An individual reaches obese proportions, it’s more likely that these physical attributes will be negatively impacted. Conversely, improve these attributes and the body fat will reduce.

But how do you know if you’re really fit or not? Most people greatly overestimate their physical abilities, especially men. Wouldn’t it be nice if your doctor did a fitness assessment as part of your “routine physical examination”? Dream on. They aren’t qualified to do so and that service will likely never be covered by medical insurance. Only a competent personal trainer or kinesiologist can assess your fitness correctly, and most will offer this as a complimentary service. Everyone should have this done at least once to understand how your fitness compares to the fitness industry standards.

4. Poor nutritional habits

People who become obese don’t get that way by eating live, fresh, organic whole foods. They get that way in part from eating dead, sterile, processed junk loaded with damaging fats and refined sugars. As a result, many are chronically dehydrated (from insufficient water intake) and deficient in the nutrients necessary to sustain a healthy body. Of course, calories play a large part, but I believe if people just focus on eating wholesome food, and eating only what they needed, many weight issues would disappear.

In an effort to lose weight, many obese people follow diets that are too restricted and aren’t sustainable, leading to even more fat gain and eventual metabolic shutdown. The starving and binging merry-go-round becomes a permanent pattern for the rest of their lives.

5. Lack of social support and guidance

I truly believe that you become who spend your time with. If your friends and family are overweight, it can give you a sense of comfort, to the point where you actually justify being obese. A common excuse might be “everyone in my family is fat so I guess there’s nothing I can do about it”. Your friends will have a great influence over what you do and eat. If they engage in similar negative  lifestyle patterns as you, you don’t stand a chance of changing, at least as long as they are your friends. Birds of a feather certainly do flock together.

Many times peers will actually try to sabotage others’ efforts to lose weight in order to satisfy their  jealousy and other selfish motives. These people are like cancer and need to be removed before any weight loss program can begin. An example would be “you don’t need to lose weight, you’re beautiful just the way you are” or “all you ever eat is salads and meat, you’re no fun anymore since you’ve been losing weight”.  This kind of peer reinforcement can be very damaging and encourage further weight gain.

6. Unhealthy mindset

For an obese person to adopt a healthy lifestyle, they must first admit that a change is needed. Many don’t believe they have a problem or that they are even obese. Excess body fat (beyond 20% for men and 25%for women) is the hallmark of obesity, therefore, we cannot equate obesity or excess body fat with optimum health, ideal performance or self-respect.  If we have a very high degree of respect for ourselves, we will take action to prevent disease and protect our health.

My goal here was not to oversimplify a very real and complex problem that affects millions of Canadians. I just wanted to remind people that by focusing on a few key lifestyle factors, they can significantly impact this deadly trend of increasing obesity. According to a recent report, obesity costs the Canadian economy between 4.6 – 7.8 billion dollars annually. So this problem affects us all. Obesity increases a person’s risk of developing Type ll diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, stroke, cancer and many other degenerative and crippling diseases.

 

Many times these scenarios can be prevented. The science of wellness and positive emotion will be our driving force. What man or woman truly in love with themselves would knowingly allow themselves to deteriorate without opposition, especially when that same person understands the consequences of their own actions on their body and health?

If you enjoyed this article, please quickly do me a favor and share with others and comment below.

 

Craig Simms
Craig Simms is a personal trainer and weight loss coach in Vancouver, B.C. Craig has been a fitness leader for over 11 years and has amassed over 15,000 hours of personal training experience in that span. He specializes in personalized weight management programs.
Craig Simms
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3 Comments

  1. Meredith July 4, 2011

    It is so good to see articles about obesity and I’m hoping that this becomes a trend — helpful articles, not the “push yourself away from the table” stuff — often uttered by people who are naturally thin…sigh…

    FYI — Gary Taubes has written two great books on this in the past few years. I highly recommend them.
    Good Calories, Bad Calories and Why We Get Fat. Check them out. And no, I have no connection with him! 🙂 I just love his books…

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  2. Amy @ Flex Belt November 20, 2011

    I never knew improper sleep patters was a cause of obesity, that was an interesting tidbit i had never known before. I think unhealthy dieting is definitely the main contributor, when i look at peoples food going through the conveyer belt at the supermarket and i can’t help but nod my head. Keep for you cupboards and your fridge stocked with healthy food and you won’t have any choice but to eat healthy at home that’s what really got me to lose a lot of my weight and kick start my healthy lifestyle.

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  3. Jake - Justice Coin February 16, 2012

    I’m on month two of my diet and have lost 12 pounds so far. It’s a complete lifestyle change. I used to pride myself on how little I slept and now I aim for a full 8 hours a night. I count calories, portion countrol and a reduction in the amount I consume as well. I feel like i have more energy in the morning and finally have a flat stomach. I don’t know why I hadn’t made this lifestyle change before.

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