The number of obese and overweight adults around the world have tripled since 1975. That is according to the most recent data by the World Health Organization (WHO). But what exactly is the difference between being overweight and being considered obese?
En Bonne Santé dietician Michelle Zeitsman sheds light on the question and explains that obesity is a “chronic disease that goes beyond being overweight and is accompanied by adverse health effects”.
She adds, “[Obesity] has very complex causes, including a combination of interactions between behavioural, cultural, environmental, genetic, metabolic, psychological and socioeconomic factors.”
It starts in the genes
There are many things that are genetically inherited from the family lineage and body mass is one of them, but this is no reason to relax just because “that’s what your momma gave you”.
“Genetics can predispose one to obesity and the gene expression is almost always triggered by the environment, which refers to diet and physical activity. Our environment is bombarded with ultra-processed foods that are quick, cheap and heavily advertised. Continued and unmonitored consumption of these foods can result in obesity,” she says.
‘Fat genes’ may begin with pregnancy
There are many health risks associated with obesity, including diabetes, heart disease, kidney stones, osteoarthritis, respiratory problems and sleep apnoea, among many others.
According to the South Africa Demographic and Health Survey 2016 Key Indicators Report, 68% of women and 31% of men are overweight or obese, and this will have a detrimental effect on the well-being of many people.
With 13% of South African children overweight, Zietsman believes that this is not a scare only for the old, but for every living person. To avoid the risk, she says diet is especially crucial, starting during pregnancy.
“As parents or caregivers, we are the single most important influence on our children’s food choices. Thus, we have the amazing privilege to be role models when it comes to laying foundations for life-long healthy habits,” Zietsman continues.
Whole and plant foods to the rescue
There are many foods that can be substituted for the unhealthy food that may be causing you to gain weight. Whole foods and plant foods are your best bet. Eating mainly whole plant foods essentially crowds out and minimises foods that are high in saturated fat, like animal products and processed foods high in energy, but low in nutritional value.
“Plant-based foods provide many health benefits such as protecting against nutritional deficiencies and diseases like type 2 diabetes, obesity, hypertension and high cholesterol,” says Zeitsman. “The key to these amazing benefits is the fibre and phytochemicals (plant chemicals that contribute to the taste, smell and vibrant colours of plant foods and have antioxidant activity) found in fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, nuts, seeds, herbs and spices.”
Get active and beat the ‘chub’
According to the dietician, there is no one-size-fits-all treatment for obesity, but an individualised and holistic approach, and it goes beyond just eating less and exercising more.
“Yes, a very important part of treatment is adopting a nutrient-dense diet and increasing physical activity. However, treatment is multidimensional and requires chronic care.”
Consider looking at setting realistic goals and identifying psychological, behavioural and biological barriers. Individuals living with obesity can also be coached in methods like intuitive eating, recognising hunger and fullness cues, recipe adaptations, menu planning, hydration, sleep hygiene, stress management and self-acceptance, among other things,” Zietsman concludes.