Obesity, causes, complications and prevention

By Dr Harsh Sharma, DHMS, BHMS

Published February 21, 2015, Last updated October 21, 2016

Obesity and its effectsObesity is a common problem that has almost taken the shape of an epidemic. In fact, obesity has been recognized formally by WHO as a global epidemic in 1997. Informed estimates suggest that almost 500 -600 million people worldwide are obese. That is almost 10% of the global population. This problem is worse in the western world, more so in US, Canada, Australia and Europe. So one can have a fair estimate of how serious this epidemic of obesity is.

What is Obesity

Obesity can be defined as having too much fat. It can be said to be a condition in which excess body fat is detrimental to one’s health and longevity. Obesity can lead to a lot of other diseases which are directly known to reduce one’s life span.

Being obese is different from being overweight. That is because one may be overweight but the weight could be due to increased muscle mass or bony mass. One is concerned more about having too much fat. The usual classification is based on one’s Body Mass Index or BMI. It is calculated as

Calculating BMI for obesityWeight /square of one’s height in metres

e.g if one’s body weight is 80 kg and his height is 1.7m, his BMI will be 80/1.7×1.7 =27.6. So the BMI comes out to be 27.6.

BMI Chart to know whether you are obese or not
BMI Chart

The normal range of BMI is between 18.5 and 25. A BMI of 25 and above is considered overweight. A BMI of 30 or above is considered obese. Anything above 35 is considered severe obesity and above 40 is known as morbid obesity.

Causes of obesity

There are many causes that contribute to obesity. The modern lifestyle, increased intake of fried and junk food, sedentary life and so many other things contribute to obesity. There may be some diseases also that cause obesity, prominent ones being arthritis and hypothyroidism. Such diseases require proper treatment of the cause. Once the cause is cured, the body weight comes down to normal. We are here concerned about the other causes, which are part of the today’s lifestyle. Let us take the prominent causes one by one.

Difference in calories consumed and burned

The foremost cause of obesity is a mismatch between the amount of calories consumed in food and the calories spent. When one is consuming more calories daily and spending less, the difference is bound to be stored in the body. This storage is done in the form of body fat only. It is the primary reason for increase in one’s body fat. The calories consumed may be in the form of increased fat or proteins. Each gram of fat is broken down into calories. While the number of calories obtained from a gram of fat is 9, that from protein happens to be 4. Whatever the number, the body stores any excess calories in the form of fat only. Over the years, the average daily calorie consumption has been increasing worldwide. It is the highest in US, reaching about 3700 calories. Similarly in other parts of the world, the calorie consumption has been increasing whether it is Europe, Asia or Africa.

Unhealthy diet and eating practices lead to obesity

The modern day diet has to take much of the blame in contributing to this epidemic of obesity. Today’s diet is composed more and more of junk food. This junk food is much richer in calories. The nutritive value of such food is low. It is low in fibre and high in fats. At the same time, the daily consumption of fruits and raw vegetables is low. To make things worse, packaged foods are flying off the shelves. Such packaged foods are also rich in oily stuff. The increased consumption of beverages like aerated drinks too cause an increased buildup of calories. These colas are rich in sugars, which directly contribute to obesity.

Role of sedentary lifestyle in obesity

The modern day affluence has provided one with all sorts of machines to decrease the physical workload of a human being. One has access to personal vehicles and improved public transport. This obviates the need to walk or cycle. All physical activities related to household work are being taken over by machines. Sports are hardly a part of one’s routine. The modern day work ethic is also to blame for this. One is fast becoming a part of the rat race where everything is measured in terms of financial success. This causes lot of stress in one’s life. There is no incentive to go out and have a game of soccer with friends. Even the kids are spending far more time on computers and in front of televisions as compared to playing with other children. This sedentary lifestyle means that one is hardly burning any calories. Whatever is being consumed will be saved by the body in form of fat.

Lack of sleep

A relatively little known fact is that lack of sleep can contribute to obesity. When one does not get enough sleep, a lot of hormonal changes occur in the body. Some of these hormonal changes can even increase one’s appetite. This increased appetite leads to increased intake of calories thus contributing to obesity.

Some medicines can also cause obesity

Some allopathic medicines like antidepressants, beta blockers, diabetes medicines, steroids and medicines for seizures are known to cause increase in body weight.

Pregnancy leading to obesity

It has been observed that women find it difficult to lose weight that they gain during pregnancy. This often causes permanent increase in body weight. Multiple pregnancies and having pregnancies late in life have also been known to cause obesity.

Diseases leading directly or indirectly to obesity

Some diseases are also known to cause obesity. This may be a direct or indirect consequence. In some diseases like hypothyroidism, there is a direct correlation as the metabolism of the body slows down. In other diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, backache or even an injury to the leg or foot, one is forced to cut down on walking and any other physical activity. This loss of activity then leads to increase in body weight.

Effects of Obesity on Health

Obesity is known to have serious deleterious effects on one’s health. It is known to cause or at least be associated with a lot of other diseases. Some of these diseases may even be life threatening ones. When it comes to the musculoskeletal system gout, osteoarthritis and backache are common problems seen with obesity. In the circulatory system coronary artery disease, stroke, blood pressure and high cholesterol levels are seen as a result of obesity. Diabetes is another major disease that has been known to have a direct correlation with obesity. In the respiratory system asthma, bronchitis and sleep apnea are seen much more frequently in obese people. In the digestive system fatty liver and gall stones are commonly seen in people with obesity.  Some forms of cancer are also seen much more frequently in overweight people. Obesity is also associated with diseases or problems of the reproductive system. Erectile dysfunction in males is often due to obesity. In females, obesity may cause infertility. Also, it may lead to dysmenorrhea or other menstrual problems. Polycystic ovaries are also seen much more commonly in obese women. Also, number of complications during pregnancy and delivery are much more common in obese women.

Management and prevention of obesity

When it comes to prevention of obesity, the advice is same as that would be given to an already obese patient. Therefore the advice for management and prevention is similar. At the outset, I want to highlight that dieting is not something that I am going to recommend. It is hardly of any help. There are no magic cures and no magic diets that can cut down your obesity in a matter of days. It is a corrective process that needs to be adopted in your daily life that will help you in the long run. So follow the advice given below, adopt these practices in your daily life and results will surely follow, even though it is going to take some time.

  • Walking or exercising regularly is also very important. A physical workout or exercise of 30-40 minutes daily for at least 5 days a week is necessary. It helps by burning calories. At the same time, it builds muscle mass. The muscles consume more energy for their sustenance. Therefore more your muscle mass, more the calories that you burn even when resting. Thus, physical exercise helps in more ways than one.
  • It is important that one should do a careful analysis of one’s diet. As the intake of calories and the burning of calories directly impact obesity, one should take great care of these issues.
  • Cutting down on fat, sweets, aerated drinks, junk food, processed food and other fried foods is necessary. Eating high fibre food items like cereals, fruits and vegetables are necessary. The intake of such items should be increased.
  • Cut down on alcohol and non veg food. These things are high in calories. The nearer you are to nature, the better you are. So eat a lot of fruits and raw vegetables.
  • Drink lots of water. It helps by cleansing the system and draining out all impurities and toxins.

Role of Homeopathy in treatment of Obesity

It is important to mention again here that there are no wonder drugs or magic cures for obesity. Any medicine can help only to a certain point by regulating your metabolism and curing any underlying cause that may have resulted in obesity. Similarly, Homeopathic remedies help by curing any underlying cause that may have contributed to obesity. Homeopathy can help by improving your metabolic system, which may have been a contributory factor to obesity. A lot of homeopathic medicines have been used to treat obesity. Graphites, Calcarea Carb, Phytollaca, Silicea and Capsicum are some of the frequently used homeopathic medicines.

N.B Homeopathic medicines are very safe and do not have any side effects when taken under the supervision of an expert homeopathic doctor.

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