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The health related articles on this page are intended more for the general public. Although the author (Njei M.T) is a pharmacist, his approach is not restricted to health professionals. > Obesity: A Weighty Health Problem

26 Aug 2006

During the last conference of the International Association of Agricultural Economists in Gold Coast, Australia (Aug 12-18), it was revealed that the global number of overweight people now exceed the number of the undernourished. More than one billion overweight people live in the world today compared to 800million undernourished. Terminologies like ‘obesity epidemics’ and ‘globesity’ are now used to describe this phenomenon that is rapidly gaining ground.


Obesity is a medical condition that is characterized by the storage of excess fat tissue under the skin, around the joints and organs. Obese people are more susceptible to certain diseases and the following are obesity-related diseases. Type 2 (adult onset) diabetes, hypertension, stroke, heart attack, gallstones, osteoarthritis, sleep apnea and certain types of cancers like colon, rectum and prostrate cancer.


The Body Mass Index (BMI) and waist circumference are used to measure overweight and obesity. BMI = Weight in kilograms divided by height (meters) squared.

Obesity: BMI equals to or greater tan 30, Overweight: BMI equals to or greater than 25. For example, my current weight is 90 kg and my height is 1.66 meters. My height squared is 1.66 x 1.66 = 2.7556. Therefore my BMI is 90 divided by 2.7556 = 32.66. I am therefore obese and must initiate actions to reduce my weight. Alternatively, a waist circumference for women greater than 85 cm (35 inches) or for men greater than 102 cm (40 inches) is considered high risk.



Bulging waistline signalling obesity


The cause of obesity involves the interplay of multiple factors such as genetic predisposition, diet and physical activity. Researchers, however generally agree that the overwhelming number of overweight and obese cases are linked to dietary and lifestyle factors that are characterized by increased calorie consumption and reduced physical activity. As more and more people consume high calorie ‘junk foods’ and spend more and more time performing sedentary activities like browsing the Internet, playing video games or watching television, the obesity epidemics can only increase.


 Another least publicized probable cause of obesity is the presumed role played by the food additive (E-621) or MSG (Monosodium Glutamate). Scientists in Spain established a link between MSG and increased appetite in rat experiments. The substance MSG (sometimes called hydrolyzed vegetable protein) that is used by the food industry as a flavor enhancer was found to produce a 40% increase in appetite in experimental rats. Critics of the food industry charge that MSG is used in such a way as to get consumers hooked to their products. More militant people like John and Michelle Erb, co-authors of ‘The slow Poisoning of America’ believe that the food industry uses “MSG as their own brand of nicotine designed to addict you to their products”. It is believed that MSG could be a key factor behind obesity particularly in children. Statistics show that from 1980-2000, the number of obese children and teenagers in the U.S almost tripled. Health authorities around the world are raising alarm signals as the faltering health of fat people weigh heavily on health budgets. The projections for the future are even more alarming.


So what advice do I have for my fellow obese friends? A nutritionally balanced and low calorie diet (ranging from 400 to 1500 calories per day depending on degree of obesity) is recommended. Consult a nutrition expert if possible. Physical activity is paramount. The best way to achieve long-term weight control is to exercise regularly. Your doctor will have to decide whether you opt for other weight management procedures like medication and surgery. There are advances in the research for a vaccine to manage obesity but eventual clinical use is still years down the road. It requires a lot of discipline to shed off extra kilograms and it requires even more discipline and effort to maintain the reduced weight. Do not aim at weight reduction targets that are not easy to attain lest you will become frustrated. Remember that studies show that a 5-10% reduction in body weight may be enough to significantly improve medical conditions associated with obesity such as high cholesterol, diabetes and hypertension even though the patient may still be overweight.

Njei Moses Timah