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Obesity Is Nowadays A World Epidemic

Our eating habits are not encouraging. In Ecuador, the results of the latest National Health and Nutrition Survey (ENSANUT) reveal that 5.558.185 Ecuadorians aged between 18 and 59 are overweight or obese.

Redacción de NUMBERS
2016-09-07

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“Obesity is not about being of a certain weight, but about how much fat is in our bodies and the damage that it can do”, says Andrés Acosta, PhD –gastroenterology and obesity specialist at the Mayo Clinic, a US medical facility dedicated to healthcare, research and education. He talks to NUMBERS about this topic.

Obesity is classified by the body mass index (BMI = weight in kilograms divided by height in metres square). According to this criterion there are three categories: the first, ranging from 18 to 25 which is considered normal; from 25 to 30 is overweight, and higher than 30 is obesity.

There are treatments available to treat it, depending on the needs of each patient. Acosta explains that there are people with satiety issues, people with gastric emptying rate issues, and people with psychological problems who can’t stop eating. These treatments are long and continuous and can go on for years or even decades.

¿WHAT’S GOING ON IN THE WORLD THAT CAUSES PEOPLE TO BECOME PROGRESSIVELY FATTER?
“Today there are more people suffering obesity in the world than malnutrition. Obesity is an epidemic that is causing us to die sooner than previous generations”, states the doctor.

This phenomenon is produced by several factors, one of them being human genetics. Throughout evolution, humans suffered famine —“99% of our background is characterised by a lack of food”, says Acosta—, this is the reason why the human body has always saved calories; consequently, “for each 100 mechanisms that save calories, we only have one that burns them”.

On the other hand, the last few decades have been a time of abundance, and “this plentifulness has been abused causing us to eat far too much, plain and simple”. All this is exacerbated by a high degree of food processing and the high calories contained in this type of food, and also the fact that there is not enough consumption of vegetables.

Moreover, hand in hand with technological advancement there came a widespread acquisition of vehicles and therefore people today tend to walk less. There are medicines that increase weight, and mental health issues such as anxiety and depression cause people to eat more. “There are also alterations of the gut flora (intestinal microbiota) that favour the absorption of foods and are possibly contributing towards the calories we consume”.

Likewise, industrialisation has reduced the need for physical and manual labour, thus encouraging sedentary lifestyles. According to ENSANUT, 12,1% of males between 18 and 59 are inactive, and the same is the case with 17,1% of women in the same age range.

THE SITUATION OF THE CHILDREN
In January 2016 the World Health Organisation (WHO) reported that throughout the world, at least 41 million children under five are obese –this figure mainly encompasses developing countries.

In order to treat obesity in children, doctor Acosta is adamant that efforts have to be made to encourage physical activity, because the main problem is in this case their sedentary lifestyles. “Children can eat massive amounts of food because they have a very active metabolism, but the lack of physical activity makes them obese”.

The child is not to blame —he says—, in fact education should be oriented in first instance to the parents “because they’re in charge of buying the food”. Data from ENSANUT reveal that in the country 21,1% of children between 5 and 10 years old play videogames or watch from two to four hours of television a day.

EXERCISE AND ADEQUATE EATING ARE CRUCIAL FOR PREVENTION
“The best thing to prevent obesity is exercise”, says the specialist. Everyone should do some kind of physical activity because it helps to eliminate toxins, improves mood, and keeps the metabolism active.

The gastroenterologist recommends that people walk 10.000 steps a day and do 150 minutes of cardiovascular exercise every week (jumping rope, push-ups, running, etc.). So, if this doesn’t help to keep the weight in check, the time allocated to cardiovascular exercise should be increased to 270 minutes.

It is also crucial to have a well-balanced diet. “A healthy diet consists of getting lots of colours on the plate; if the food on your plate is just one colour, you’re making a mistake”. It is recommended to have a serving of protein-rich food, one of vegetables, a carbohydrate (pasta, rice, flours…) and one serving of fruit. “If you like dessert, reduce your intake of carbohydrates; it’s that simple”, he says.

The WHO points out that unhealthy diets and the lack of exercise are a threat not just in terms of obesity, but for overall health. Good eating begins in early childhood with breast milk, which is beneficial for growth, and in the long term may help to reduce the risk of becoming overweight or obese.

The data provided by this world-health referent recommend that in order to avoid weight gain, fats should not surpass 30% of the total food intake, sugar should be limited to 10% and salt should be kept at less than 5 grams a day.

It is evident that obesity has become a significant threat to the human species. The WHO is betting on governmental intervention and public health policies aimed at keeping tabs on it.

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According to the WHO, since 1980 obesity throughout the world has doubled, and most of it is concentrated in countries where it causes more deaths than being underweight

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