Jul 6, 2020 in Research

A group of researchers from the University of Pittsburg have recently made a somewhat entertaining discovery that a powerful obesity gene found in nearly 25% of Samoans facilitated this rotund people’s quest for territorial aggrandizement several centuries ago. Back at the time, extra weight allegedly helped Samoans to endure arduous voyages and to survive in the hostile environments of the remote and often barren islands of Polynesia. Today, as Samoans have reached the bounds of their territorial depredations, the presence of this obesity gene is no longer seen as a benefit. Naturally, it does not necessarily take an obesity gene for a person to gain excessive weight. Unhealthy lifestyles, unbalanced diets, limited physical activity and myriad other related factors significantly contribute to the development of obesity in people around the world, including the US. Alarmingly enough, a recent study by a team of Japanese researchers indicates that even excessive exposure to light in the evening is conducive to abdominal weight gain. Apparently, avoiding exposure to light after sunset would be a mediocre strategy for fighting or preventing obesity. Getting regular physical activity, by contrast, could yield more tangible results.

Obesity rates in the US, just as elsewhere in the world, have ballooned in the past three decades. Importantly, the scourge of obesity is affecting both children and adults. Yet, looking at the statistics, it appears that the US is among the world’s leaders in terms of both adult and childhood obesity. Thus, according to an unimpeachable statistical source, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 35% or 78.6 million American adults are obese. The figure is about 5% higher than it was in 2008. A deeper excursus into history proves that the magnitude of the problem is rising at an exponential pace. Thus, in 1995, less than 20% of all adult Americans were obese. Today, few American states have obesity rates lower than 20%. As to children, it is estimated that 12.5 million are obese, with about 2.8 million being categorized as severely obese. Overall, no less than one-third of Americans carry more pounds than they should. As the prevalence of obesity in the US rises, it appears that American people should better carry different sorts of weights. Hand weights would work just fine.

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Indeed, there is sufficient scholarly evidence to bear out the claim that insufficient physical activity is the most important cause of obesity in the US. It can be associated with other risk factors like low socioeconomic status, but it can also contribute to the development of obesity in and of itself. It seems a matter of conventional wisdom that people leading sedentary lifestyles would put on avoirdupois faster than those moving constantly. With the benefit of hindsight, it appears that the incidence of obesity was dramatically lower in the previous decades, when cars were not as common and especially when more people were engaged in strenuous physical work. While all this seems evident, there is also plentiful academic evidence to corroborate this point. Wrigley, Corke, Seetharaman and Faubion, for example, explain that obesity was a rare problem in the US back in the 1950s – so rare, in fact, that few commentators, not to mention public figures, even cared to talk about it. It would be only in the ensuing decades that the nation would awaken to the perils associated with obesity.

The perils stemming from obesity are legion. Indeed, there is no gainsaying in academic quarters that obese people are at a heightened risk of morbidity from a variety of diseases. The list of diseases that can develop from obesity runs the gamut of severity from asthma, angina, orthopedic ailments, obstructive sleep apnea and cholesterol disorders to hypertension, type 2 diabetes, lung disease, coronary heart disease and cancer. In addition, adiposity often comes with a social stigma, leading to the development of psychological syndromes in obese people. Thus, psychological symptoms include low self-esteem, shame, and depressions of various degree of severity. Being obese is not a verdict, but it certainly amplifies the risks of developing serious health problems that go beyond the discomfort associated with excess weight. A change of lifestyle for more regular physical activity can at least reduce the risk of these perils.

As a problem rooted largely in irregular physical activity, the ever-growing prevalence of obesity will shrink only when affected or at-risk people will begin to exercise more. Judging by the highest standards, physical activity is a vehicle that coordinates proper energy balance and weight control processes in the organism. Engaged in physical activity, people burn calories consumed during the previous food intakes. Importantly, physical activity is not only one of the most feasible but also one of the most inexpensive strategies to tackle obesity. Indeed, it does not necessarily require purchasing expensive sports equipment and clothes or enrolling in prestigious sports clubs. To be physically active, people do not need to go to a swimming pool or a gym, as there are multiple more cost-effective alternatives. Yet, to yield truly effective results, physical activity needs to be regular.

To be sure, cynics may say – with a good reason, perhaps – that increased physical activity, in isolation, cannot overcome obesity. But no one says that physical activity is a panacea against obesity. In fact, when taken to extremes, physical activity can single-handedly transmogrify a corpulent person into a brawny or, at least, skinny one. Yet, it is certainly true that physical activity works best in conjunction with other related strategies, such as balanced dieting. To be sure, naysayers could also object that obesity causes serious comorbidities only when a person is very overweight. They are, in fact, sugarcoating the truth and lulling others into a false belief. While the risks are higher for those who are very overweight, they are also perceptible for people who are only slightly overweight. In case of obesity, as is often the case with other health problems, prevention is the best intervention.

Given the problem as it is described above, the need to take action is critical. Instead of sanctioning food companies to bombard TV and online audiences with unprecedented avalanches of unhealthy food advertisements, the government should take conscious measures to promote healthy lifestyles. Campaigns to raise awareness are needed, because obesity is not a problem of individuals anymore; it is a collective problem of American society. Obesity should be overcome not only because this would promote better health outcomes for individual people, but also because this would make national economy stronger. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, obesity costs the US roughly $147 billion annually, with medical costs for obese people being about $1,400 higher than those for people with normal weight. Yet, the onus of responsibility for tackling obesity lies with individuals, of course. People are the only custodians of their health. Hence, the call to all people, regardless of their weight, is straightforward: Use stairs instead of lifts, alight from buses several stops before your destination, ride bicycle and walk on foot, make sports breaks everywhere you can. As an old saying goes, protect the skin you are in.


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