Obesity: a complex phenomenon

Globally, obesity affects 600 million adults, or about 13% of the population, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).


Formerly reserved for industrialized countries, this disease now rubs shoulders with nutritional deficiencies in developing countries, this is called the double nutritional burden .


But what are the causes and consequences of obesity? Extenso takes stock of this major public health issue.



What is obesity?

While many organizations have taken an interest in this phenomenon in recent years, it was not until 2013 that the American Medical Association adopted a policy recognizing obesity as a disease in its own right.


Obesity is an excessive increase in body fat in relation to muscle mass, in such a proportion that it can have a damaging influence on health.
A person is considered obese when their body mass index (BMI) is greater than 30 and their health risks increase the more the BMI exceeds that number.


 BMI categories (kg / m2)  Classification of obesity  Risk of developing health problems


 Class I obesity  Student

* If abdominal obesity: very high risk

 35.0-39.9  Class II obesity  Very high
 ≥40  Class III obesity  Extremely high


However, since this measurement only takes into account a person’s weight (in kilograms) and height (in meters), BMI has its limitations and is not a direct measure of body fat.


For its part, abdominal or visceral obesity , referring to a waist circumference of 102 cm or more in men and 88 cm or more in women, is a measure that even better predicts the health risks associated with the excess weight of an individual. This is because people whose fat accumulates around the abdomen are at greater risk of developing cardiovascular disease, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers.


Thus, a man who is overweight (BMI 25 to 29.9) can be exposed to as high a risk to his health as a person suffering from obesity, if he has abdominal obesity (waist circumference). 102 cm or more).



Obesity in numbers


In Canada, the prevalence of obesity has increased markedly over the past three decades, from 6.1% of the adult population in 1985 to 18.3% of the population in 2011. However, if we compare ourselves in the United States, where obesity affected 35% of the population in 2011-2012, it is possible to take comfort.


Worryingly, not only class I obesity affects more and more Canadians, but especially type II and III obesity, the forms of excess weight causing very high health risks, more than quadrupled from 1985 to 2011. However, Quebec seems to cleverly escape this national trend by being the province with the lowest rates of obese class II and III, followed closely by British Columbia.


Knowing that 80% of people with diabetes suffer from excess weight or obesity, the increase in the prevalence of obesity may therefore explain the progression of several chronic diseases, such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.


A social and economic burden for Quebec? 
Health costs related to excess weight, and more specifically abdominal obesity, amount to more than $ 1.5 billion, or 10% of the total costs of medical consultations and hospitalizations for adults.

In addition, many people who are overweight experience weight stigma , which can undermine their self-esteem and lead them to adopt unhealthy eating behaviors.



What does the future hold for us?


The bad news: The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) predicts that several countries, including Canada, will see their obesity rates continue to increase by 4% to 5% per year, which also confirms a study carried out in 2014.


The good news: despite the increase in the prevalence of obesity in all Canadian provinces, Quebec will probably continue to maintain one of the lowest rates of overweight and obesity compared to other Canadian provinces.



What causes obesity?

While some organizations call obesity a global epidemic, this multifactorial disease is not contagious in itself. However, the lifestyle habits of parents and the whole family can indeed be passed on to children, voluntarily or not.


To this end, eating more often as a family is associated with a decrease in the consumption of soft drinks as well as a decrease in obesity problems in young people.


Beyond the influence of family and peers, various biological, socio-cultural, personal and environmental factors can contribute to obesity, making it a complex disease . And although bad eating habits and lack of physical activity are often singled out, several other factors can influence our weight and figure, such as:


 Modifiable factors (healthy lifestyle)  Uncontrollable factors
 Eating habits  The genetic background
 The level of physical activity  Age
 Sleep level  Hormone levels
 Smoking  Some diseases

Psychological stress


Weight history, etc.


In addition, socio-economic status, food and media environment as well as several other factors have an impact on our weight. Some studies have shown that the obesity rate in women tends to increase the more income decreases.


This is to say that this complex phenomenon does not necessarily result from a lack of motivation or will , but from an amalgam of determinants . And since certain factors are beyond our control, investing in a healthy lifestyle remains the best strategy to improve the health of obese people.


Looking only at the diet aspect, being overweight can occur when a person consumes more calories than they spend each day while moving, playing sports, or physically working out. The excess calories ingested are then stored in the form of fat.



The main food managers:




Did you know that foodies could be healthier than people who are less adventurous when it comes to food? At least that’s what an exploratory study carried out in 2015 with 501 young adult women in the United States suggests.
According to this study, women who enjoyed discovering new foods had a lower weight and reported being more physically active and eating a more balanced diet than the group of women who were less adventurous in terms of food.
Being more inclined to taste food, foodies seem to have more pleasure in eating and cooking . In addition, they seem to be more attentive to their bodily signals of hunger and satiety, which would allow them to maintain their natural weight more easily.



Health consequences of obesity

Obesity, and more particularly abdominal obesity , has negative repercussions on health, in addition to being the cause of several diseases:

  • Cardiovascular disease (coronary heart disease, stroke)
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Hypertension
  • Increased blood lipids (dyslipidaemia)
  • Insulin resistance
  • Certain forms of cancer (breast, uterus, pancreas, colon)
  • Sleep apnea, breathing problems
  • Gallbladder disorders
  • Osteoarthritis


In addition, “severe obesity” (stages II and III) is linked to a higher death rate as well as an increased demand on the health care system.



For our health: let’s bet on a healthy and active lifestyle


Did you know that reducing weight as little as five percent (5%) can improve your health and reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes by almost 60%? In addition, adopting a healthy lifestyle can improve several health indicators, such as the level of fat in the blood, even if the number on the scale remains the same.


While healthy eating can help prevent certain weight problems, physical activity also has a role to play. It has also been estimated that 1,051,000 cases of obesity could be avoided if inactive people became active.


So, for your health, bet on a varied and balanced diet as well as regular physical activity, regardless of your weight!

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