Obesity is a public health crisis, leading to costly and deadly diseases.
The truth is that obesity is a global disaster, according to Professor Shingai Mutambirwa, chairperson of the Urology division at Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University, who says that we urgently need a new approach to dealing with this chronic problem.
Mutambirwa, in conversation with IOL Lifestyle, said obesity is now recognised as a chronic illness, alongside diabetes and high blood pressure.
The best way for you to deal with non-communicable diseases, according to him, is to educate patients about lifestyle changes, as well as to prescribe them the right medications, since the body is already in a meltdown phase and you must sort it out with a full complement of the pillars of health even before medical intervention.
“Maintaining a good diet, exercise, quitting smoking, monitoring your stress levels, and avoiding alcohol,” said Mutambirwa.
Obesity is more prevalent among low socio-economic groups for many reasons. You would think they should be slender due to poverty and the inability to acquire adequate nutritional foods, but processed foods that are often consumed by this group are high in calories and fructose.
A Yale study found that fructose is more likely to stimulate your appetite rather than satisfy it, thereby contributing to you eating much more than you should.
There are several reasons why processed goods are less expensive than fresh produce, such as their ingredients.
The narrative, in Mutambirwa’s opinion, is that people who are obese are almost acquainted with being lazy, eating too much, and lacking self-control.
“The reality, however, is that obesity is much more complicated than that.”
He said the most obvious comparison for obesity is a thermostat. Our bodies contain a thermostat in the brain that alerts us when we should eat or if we are hungry, as well as when we are full.
But the environment has an impact on how our biological structure reacts to a variety of things. For example, because food was scarce a thousand years ago and we experienced droughts, floods and other natural disasters, our physiology needed to put on weight to prepare for those calamities.
“Any time you attempt to lose weight your body’s receptors automatically assume that there’s a problem and maintain that set weight regardless of eating right or exercising, and the fact that now we have an abundance of food also inversely prompts people to eat more.”
Why is obesity an issue? It’s just weight, right?
There are several reasons why obesity develops into a chronic disease. According to Mutambirwa it’s because once the satiety (the state of being completely satisfied, especially with food) is not being met correctly, your body resets the thermostat.
However, because your body’s thermostat has changed, you may need to consider bariatric surgery or enhanced medicine to help your body recognise when it is full and prompt you to eat less, which can help you avoid gaining weight by anywhere from 5 to 60percent, said Mutambirwa.
He continued: “Because there is so much stigma surrounding obesity, I think it’s important to address the disease holistically rather than just blaming behavioural factors. This is because stress and depression can be brought on by the stigma and can worsen obesity because they release chemicals into the bloodstream.”
“There are many genetic factors at play here; for example, having an obese parent increases your likelihood of being obese, whether you’re a man or a woman. What’s alarming is that adolescent obesity is rising at a much faster rate than adult obesity, which creates a problem because it leads to a life full of complications.”
He added: “We are concerned about visceral fat because it releases chemicals into the bloodstream that can lead to the onset of diabetes, excessive cholesterol, and hypoglycaemia, among other conditions that can harm our bodies.”
When we try to explain obesity or methods of treating the condition simply, we start with drugs or procedures that will lessen how full you feel in your stomach. Another approach would be to suggest to patients that they cut back on their calorie consumption and avoid drinking as many soft drinks because it alters the microbiome in the stomach.
It’s a combination of factors, but the reality is that the kinds of foods we eat are also not suitable to reduce the epidemic of obesity. The changes in bacteria in your stomach will, sadly, encourage you to eat more, said Mutambirwa. — IOL Health