How to prevent obesity

Knowing how to prevent obesity is essential to deal with this disease that is so common in today’s society, which is a consequence of excessive fat accumulation, and which can facilitate the development of other pathologies such as type 2 diabetes.

Its origin is multifactorial, that is, it is determined by several factors. One of them is genetic, which implies a predisposition to develop it. But, if we have this genetic component, can we avoid obesity? In many cases it is possible by implanting certain habits in our lifestyle. Do you want to know what they are? So, keep reading this article!

Overweight and obesity, the epidemic of the 21st century

Obesity is currently one of the most important public health problems worldwide. In fact, the WHO (World Health Organization) has recently described it as “the epidemic of the 21st century”.

The figures are alarming and speak for themselves. According to WHO data, in 2016, approximately 39% of the world’s adult population was overweight, and 13% obese.

Obesity and overweight continue to increase over the years, affecting 17.4% of the adult population and 10.3% of minors (under 2 years of age). to 17 years). 

How is obesity diagnosed?

The WHO defines overweight and obesity as “an abnormal or excessive accumulation of fat that poses a risk to health.”

Currently, the most widely used parameters to assess whether we are overweight or obese are the following:

  • The Body Mass Index (BMI): to obtain it, divide the weight in kg by the square of the height in square meters: [BMI = KG/M2]. If the result is greater than 25 kg/m2, it is considered that there is overweight, and if it is greater than 30 kg/m2, obesity.

However, this method has a limitation, and that is that it does not distinguish fat from muscle. To solve this aspect, we have the parameter of the “fat mass percentage”.

  • Percentage of fat mass: to carry out this measurement, scales are used that evaluate the weight of the person in more detail, taking into account the percentages of water, muscle and fat. A fat result greater than 35% indicates obesity in men, and greater than 32% in women.
  • Abdominal obesity: this method consists of measuring the waist circumference to determine abdominal obesity. It is considered that this exists if the measurement taken is greater than 102 cm in men and 88 cm in women. 

Complications of obesity.

According to WHO data, 2.8 million people die each year worldwide as a result of obesity or being overweight. 

In addition to the decrease in quality of life that both overweight and obesity imply, according to an NIH study, morbid obesity can reduce life expectancy by up to 14 years .

Both obesity and being overweight are associated with the risk of suffering from chronic diseases or complications such as:

  • Type 2 diabetes: the risk of developing it increases even if you are slightly overweight. 
  • Cardiovascular diseases: high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke. 
  • Some types of cancer: mainly breast and endometrial cancer in women, and prostate and rectal cancer in men, among others.
  • Osteoarthritis : especially in hips, knees and ankles.
  • Depression and psychological problems: due, among other reasons, to the lack of social acceptance.

As you can see, the complications of obesity can be severe, however, the good news is that there are strategies to try to prevent it that, to a large extent, depend on us. Adopting a series of healthy habits focused on avoiding its development can be key to preventing it. Prevention plays a fundamental role not only in obesity, but in many other diseases, as we explained in the article Learn about preventive and personalized medicine in the 21st century. Preventive medicine has an increasingly important role in current medicine.

Causes of obesity and how to prevent it 

First of all, it should be noted that any treatment for obesity must be supervised by a health professional, since in some cases a change in habits is not enough and requires specific therapies.

However, it is best to anticipate its appearance, since it is a disease that can be prevented. As we mentioned previously, it is a multifactorial pathology, in which there are many components involved. Next, we are going to see some factors related to the appearance of this pathology, and how we can act on each one of them.

The psychological factor

Eating is a physiological need, however, if it becomes an impulsive behavior to alleviate emotional needs, control over food intake may be lost.

If you notice that you have this relationship with food, it is convenient that you request psychological help to be able to control this impulse.

The hormonal factor

We have always heard that not all people burn the calories we eat in the same way, and that is that basal metabolism is also a factor that can contribute to the appearance of this disease. Basal metabolic rate is the rate at which we burn energy while at rest, and this rate can vary by up to 20% in different people. 

Other hormonal factors that influence the appearance of this disease is insulin resistance, which means that instead of using the sugar we eat to produce energy, it accumulates in the body in the form of fat. 

A hormone that plays a fundamental role in obesity and whose studies are increasing considerably in recent years is leptin, because among its functions, its role in regulating appetite and metabolic processes stands out, since it is related to the amount of body fat tissue.

In addition, there are different hormonal imbalances such as hypothyroidism or Cushing’s disease, which can be the cause of obesity.

Pharmacological factors

Some medicines can lead to weight gain, for example, those used to treat diabetes, psychiatric disorders or inflammatory processes.

If you are taking any drug of this type, and it is influencing your weight, you can discuss it with your doctor to assess the situation and act on other factors that help you control your weight.

Environmental factors

The main ones are age, which entails an increase in body weight (in the case of women, menopause causes hormonal changes that slow down energy consumption and increase food intake), lifestyle and eating habits. Regarding this last factor, some of the eating habits that are associated with the development of obesity are:

  • Diets with an excessive content of meats, sausages, dairy products and, in general, energy-dense foods such as pastries and carbonated drinks.
  • Deficit in intake of vegetables, fruits and cereals.
  • Regular consumption of very large portions.
  • Numerous intakes throughout the day.
  • Compulsive eating.

Eating habits begin around 4 years of age and are established at 11. Therefore, childhood is the ideal time to model healthy eating behavior, which will remain throughout life.

What does “eat well” mean? 

Eating well does not mean eating less or being habitually on a diet. The key is to establish eating habits that can be based on the following guidelines:

  • Eat as varied as possible to ensure a balanced intake of nutrients.  
  • Constitute a diet base in which carbohydrates (whole grains, legumes, potatoes) represent 55% of the calories in the diet.
  • Fats should not exceed 30% of the daily intake.
  • Limit the consumption of saturated and hydrogenated fats, present in industrial pastries, ultra-processed, etc.
  • Provide 15% protein in total daily calories, combining those of plant and animal origin, and within the latter, prioritizing those with less fat.
  • Increase the consumption of fruit, vegetables and vegetables.
  • Reduce the intake of products rich in simple sugars (such as sweets, industrial juices or soft drinks), and the consumption of salt. 
  • Drink about 2 liters of water a day

Apart from these dietary tips, you should also take into account the following tips to prevent obesity: 

  • Eat between 4 or 5 meals a day to avoid reaching the main meals with excessive hunger, which will lead us to eat more than necessary.
  • Do not consume more calories than necessary, and provide the body with all the nutrients daily through fresh and healthy foods.
  • Cook food in healthy ways: avoid fried and battered foods and prioritize grilling, boiling, steaming, or baking.
  • Read the nutritional labels, to evaluate if the food that we are thinking of adding to our shopping cart is healthy or not. If we buy badly, we will eat badly, so we must pay attention to the ingredients and the type of fat they contain. 

Avoid weekend  eating jet lag

In addition to these measures, a recent study has shown that habitual irregularity in meal times on weekends, which the authors call eating jet lag, could be linked to an increase in body mass index. 

The results were obtained without taking into account other factors such as the quality of the diet, the level of physical activity and the difference in sleep times on the weekend.

This is the first study that puts on the table the importance of having regular mealtimes in order to control weight, not only during the week, but also on Saturdays and Sundays. This study shows that the alteration of the 3 main meals during the weekends is related to the appearance of obesity and a greater impact on the body mass index, especially when the time differences are 3 and a half hours or more.

The importance of breakfast

Not having breakfast or doing it incompletely during childhood is related to obesity. An incomplete breakfast causes children’s attention to drop throughout the morning and, when lunchtime arrives, they eat more, but it does not compensate for the lack of physical and even intellectual performance they have had up to that moment. It is important not to skip breakfast and include fruit, cereals and dairy products in it.

Sedentary lifestyle in children and adolescents

Sedentary activities such as video games or television are gaining more and more ground over activities that involve physical activity. This is decisive for good health, which is why it is essential for children to make sure they get enough exercise. In the case of adults, daily habits such as taking the stairs instead of the elevator can help.

In short, healthy lifestyles are essential to prevent obesity, and also to enjoy complete well-being, both physical and mental. 

What is the relationship between genetics and obesity?

Common obesity , which we are focusing on in this article, is the one that affects the majority of the population and has a multifactorial origin, that is, genetic and environmental.

There are other types of obesity, with a much lower incidence (5% of obesity cases), among which we can highlight cases associated with diabetes type MODY ( Maturiy Onset Diabetes of the Young ) that are due to the mutation of a gene, that is, they are not multifactorial. Within these diabetes, according to the gene involved, several types are distinguished.

Several genes related to common obesity are known. Recent studies have shown that the predisposition to obesity is linked to the mechanisms responsible for regulating appetite and energy expenditure. Well, the genes currently known to be associated with obesity are involved in transmitting signals of hunger and satiety, and in the growth and differentiation processes of adipocytes, as well as in the regulation of energy expenditure.

People who have alterations in these genes are more susceptible to developing obesity when exposed to environmental factors such as eating habits that we have seen in the previous section.  

Specific genes linked to obesity

The genetics of common obesity is the consequence of a wide variety of mutations that can occur in different genes. For this reason, the genetic study of obesity is complicated, since each individual may have a different genetic profile.

The most studied genes associated with obesity are FTO and MC4R . A polymorphism of the FTO gene (rs9939609) is linked to a higher body mass index and other risk factors such as a larger waist circumference.

Variants of the MC4R gene have been related to eating habits that promote the appearance of obesity and high values ​​of fat mass.

Other genes related to a predisposition to obesity are:  FAIM2, NEGR1, BDNF, NRXNB, TFAP2B, SH2B1, APOA2, PLIN1.

In addition, epigenetics, which can be defined as the modifications or regulatory elements that involve changes in genetic function and that occur without modifying the DNA sequence, also have a great influence on the development of obesity and cardiovascular diseases. The relationship between the three main mechanisms and epigenetic marks (such as methylation) with obesity is being studied more and more every day. 

Can we prevent obesity, even if we have a genetic predisposition? 

As we have just explained, the FTO and MC4R genes , among others, are linked to the appearance of common obesity. Recent studies have shown that those with genetic variants in both genes have a higher weight than those with only one variant. They also point out that the genetic effects are not uniform for all individuals, but are modulated by physical exercise and diet, so that active subjects will be able to counteract this genetic predisposition.

Therefore, physical activity and diet are key to compensating for mutations in the aforementioned genes. People who have the variants, if they practice sports, eat well and follow healthy lifestyle habits that allow them to control their weight, do not have to be obese.

The results come from observational studies, so intervention studies are necessary to make more personalized recommendations. 

In any case, the effect of dietary habits and exercise on different phenotypes such as obesity is different in each person. For this reason, the study of how genes interact with the environment is very important, since it allows increasing knowledge about obesity and obtaining new evidence to develop individualized prevention strategies.

As you have seen, obesity is a disease that, luckily, can be prevented. 

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