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How to Fight Obesity - Tips for You and Your Children

Obesity has reached epidemic proportions across the globe. More than 1 billion adults are overweight with 300 million labeled clinically obese. An alarming 22 million children around the world under the age of five are estimated to be overweight. Of even greater concern is the fact that these numbers are rising at accelerated rates with no expectation that these rates will slow in the near future. Obesity is a nondiscriminatory disease; affecting people of all races, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status. The toll obesity takes on the body, the mind, and even on society is extensive. Health experts are committed to educating the public concerning the prevalence of obesity, the detrimental effects caused by this adverse condition, and how to eradicate this societal burden.

Obesity is defined through a measurement known as the body mass index. The body mass index, commonly referred to as the BMI, is a calculation which is performed using a person’s weight in kilograms then divided by the square of the individual’s height in meters. Average BMIs vary by the region where an individual lives. In North America and Europe, the mean is 25-27kg/m2. A person is considered overweight if the measured BMI is more than 25kg/m2. The standard set for determining obesity is a BMI exceeding 30kg/m2. With the mean BMI in North America between 25 and 27, it is safe to conclude that a majority of Americans are within the overweight range on the scale and very close to the clinical obesity measurement.

How does obesity affect health?

Individuals considered obese suffer adverse affects to both their health and quality of life. Added weight can impede a person’s ability to comfortably perform necessary daily activities. Certain tasks, easily performed by individuals at a healthy weight, can often seem intolerable or even impossible to someone considered obese. Many individuals experience psychological issues directly related to obesity; depression, low self-esteem and low self-confidence. The difficulty handling every day chores along with the health issues caused by obesity may become overwhelming and frustrating. Contending with the effects of obesity over a long period of time can elicit feelings of futility and hopelessness.

Obesity is a key factor in the development of a number of chronic conditions. The conditions attributed to obesity include type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, gallbladder disease, cerebrovascular diseases like stroke and heart attacks, blood clots in the legs and lungs, respiratory conditions, reproductive disorders, certain cancers, and liver problems. Certain diseases caused by obesity can lead to restricted mobility, can even become debilitating. These conditions take a significant toll on energy and vitality levels. Many of the chronic diseases require medication and diet restrictions to prevent serious and permanent impairments such as blindness and possible paralysis.

Life expectancy is significantly reduced in those who are considered obese. A person who is about 30lbs overweight has an almost 30% greater chance of an early death than his/her healthy counterpart. The early death rate percentages increase corresponding with the amount of excess body fat a person carries. A person who is considered obese has a 50% higher likelihood of early death compared to someone of a healthy weight. Due to the prevalence of obesity and the high incidence of obesity in children, the life expectancy of our children is shorter than that of their parent’s generation for the first time in history.

In light of these facts, it is evident that immediate action is required. Steps must be taken to halt the rise of obesity and start society on the path to a healthy recovery. It is imperative to understand what has caused this dangerous trend to occur in order to develop an effective course of action. Understanding what triggered the obesity epidemic will provide valuable insight which can be used to discern the problems root. There are a number of relevant theories as to which factors have significantly contributed to the obesity problem. Though the specific factors charged with contributing to the obesity epidemic may differ, it seems evident that the culpability is not attributable to one lone element but a combination of factors.

Understanding the cause of obesity

A number of factors have been attributed to the rising obesity crisis. Though there is some debate over which factors harbor the majority of the blame, there is little argument over which are part of the obesity problem. Sedentary lifestyles, food portion sizes, and diets rich in saturated fats, sodium, and sugar have taken their toll on the population. Also sharing the blame for increasing waist sizes are technological advancements and busier schedules. A shift in priorities and changing times seem to have piloted the population; leading into larger pant sizes and shorter life expectancies with a lowered quality of life. Demands placed on family’s time and resources make it difficult to focus on healthy lifestyle and food choices. A line needs to be drawn declaring where our priorities need to be in order to ensure healthy lives and to bring an end to the rising obesity trends.

Sedentary lifestyles: Though it has already been established that the obesity crisis was not caused by one single factor, if one were to be selected as potentially the most influential it would be the lack of physical activity in daily lives. Previous generations of children spent much of their time, leisure and otherwise, in physically engaging and challenging pursuits. It used to be that the majority of activities required some physical demand on the person. Today, this is rarely true. Outdoor activities hold limited appeal for the technology generation. Video games and movies now captivate their attention and monopolize their time.

The adult population has met with similar circumstances. Technological advancements have lessened the work load on the population. Jobs which were once physically demanding are now completed by automated machinery. Instead of actively participating in the completion of a task, many people are only supervising the automated completion. Additionally, leisure pursuits are more leisurely than they once were; requiring little to almost no physical demand from those participating. Adults spend hours in front of computer screens or television sets enjoying activities which require no exertion of energy.

Unhealthy Diets: Diets have become increasingly unhealthy over the last several decades. The emergence and subsequent rise in popularity of the fast food restaurant is a clear indication of the population’s diet priorities. The ready availability of industry engineered foods seems to have erased the concern with balanced meals. There is little regard for the nutritional value of food; the main focus being the speed at which the food is served and satisfaction with the taste. Convenient packaging seems to even rank as a higher priority. Empty calories are enjoyed as regular meals instead of as the occasional treat.

The nutritional quality of the food isn’t the only issue with diet ascribed to the obesity trend. Portion sizes and eating frequency have increased substantially. There has been some argument as to the relevance of the increased portion sizes in correlation to the obesity epidemic. It seems logical to conclude that the larger portion sizes being served would have an impact on weight. What once served a family of four is now being consumed by a single person as a meal for one. The additional food quantities are accompanied by supplemental measures of both calories and fat. Add into the equation the high frequency of meal times, and the calorie and fat counts skyrocket.

Busy Schedules: The changes in economic demands and family structure have exacerbated the obesity crisis. Once it was commonplace for one parent to stay at home to care for the home and children. Domestic duties were handled as a core priority by the stay at home spouse. Since the domestic chores were the sole occupation of the home parent, there was time spent on choosing healthy options for meal preparation and to regulate the children’s activities.

It is rare for a family to have the luxury of a stay at home parent anymore. Financial requirements demand two incomes to ensure financial solvency and stability. With both parents at work, there is little time left for either to focus on domestic responsibilities. Most domestic tasks suffer. Meals are prepared in a hurry or on the run. Two parent households aren’t the only ones that suffer. The number of single parent homes rose dramatically in the last few decades. Single parents must manage their job, often more than one, their parenting responsibilities, and their household duties. Balancing all of these responsibilities leaves little time to spend on any one task. Meal preparation suffers; as does time spent engaging in physical activity or exercise.

The Solution

Each generation must contend with a unique set of issues; issues which their parent’s generation are not intimately familiar. Technological advancements, which were clearly intended to make life easier, accomplished the goal at the expense of our health. Instead of improving the quality of life, these advancements have taken years away reducing both the quantity and quality due to health issues. Instead of complimenting our existence, society has allowed technology to dominate it. We eat processed foods while sitting on our stationary derrières staring at a television or computer screen gaining lethal pounds of fat.

As the picture painted is certainly a dismal one, there is no sense in persisting with this trend. The answer is clear, just not popular. The road to recovery is never an easy path. At times it likely seems simpler to continue with the tide rather than go against it in an effort to change direction. But when the stake is your life or the life of a loved one, what effort could possibly be gauged as too much and justified as not worth the exertion? We cannot afford any further delay. There will never be a time when this goal will be easily accomplished. The sooner we begin, the better our chances will be to reverse the effects of our blind ambition and to finally put health and quality of life at the top of our priority list where they belong. The time has come to return to the basics ingrained in those generations brought up before technology overtook life; physical fitness and nutrition.

Physical fitness

Physical fitness is not just a subject meant to be forgotten immediately upon completion of high school. Physical fitness is a lifetime requirement. Physical activity is an essential element of health. The human body needs physical activity to maintain healthy body function. Without physical activity, the body slowly atrophies, wasting away. The muscles weaken. The systems weaken. Eventually the organs weaken. The body becomes an inefficient machine precariously balancing the line of wellness.

The Center for Disease Control has specific guidelines recommending the amount of physical activity a person should engage in each day. The standard recommendation for adults is based on the intensity of the activity. Moderate activity requirements dictate a minimum of 30 minutes each day on at least five days per week. Vigorous intensity activity can be limited to 20 minutes for at least 3 days a week. Children should engage in at least 60 minutes of physical activity at a moderate intensity every day. The intensity of the activity is determined by the ease with which a person is able to carry on a conversation during the performance. Moderate intensity usually slightly increases the difficulty and the heart rate while vigorous intensity will make it extremely difficult to carry on a conversation and increases the heart rate substantially.

There are many ways to reach the goal recommended activity limits. You can begin a regular exercise program; one which you will find fun, challenging, and suited to your needs. You can engage in various outdoor activities. Outdoor activities can be a fun way to include your children and encourage them to be active. You can make certain changes to your daily routine to add physical activity to your day. You can use a combination of these things to meet your activity goals.

Here are some suggestions for increasing physical activity through outdoor activities:


  • Bike rides
  • Hiking
  • Swimming
  • Sports: league or just for fun
  • Kayaking
  • Paddle boating
  • Water sports: skiing, snorkeling, surfing, polo, scuba, etc...
  • Horseback riding
  • Jumping rope
  • Skateboarding

Examples of household activities or daily tasks which can be used to meet physical activity goals:


  • Housework – mopping, sweeping, putting away groceries, moving furniture
  • Running errands- grocery shopping
  • Washing the car
  • Home repairs
  • Gardening
  • Walking up and down stairs – instead of taking the elevator, use the stairs everyday.
  • Park further away from destination points so that you have to walk further.

These examples of physical activity will help increase your activity level, but will not be sufficient alone to lose any substantial amount of weight. A regular exercise routine can be added into any schedule. You have to commit to your health and wellbeing. Some time management may be necessary. Be willing to sacrifice some leisure time in favor of your health and the health of your children. Physical activity should be thought of as medication to improve your health. You would not deprive your body of medication to cure an illness. Exercise is part of the cure for obesity.

Limit the amount of time children are permitted to spend in front of television sets and computer screens. Children need limits to teach them acceptable behaviors. This should be no exception. Teach your children while they are young the importance of physical activity and exercise. Put them on the path to wellness and health. Your child(ren) depends on you for guidance. You would never want to fail them, leave them ill equipped to face the world or set them on the path to failure. You teach them manners, the difference between right and wrong, and that success in school is essential to future success. By teaching them at a young age the importance of good health, you are providing them with the key to a better quality of life and longevity.

Nutrition

In the age of fast food and super sized meals, it’s easy to lose sight of the importance of watching what you eat. At one time, nutritional value was a priority when developing the weekly or daily family menu. Today, it is the speed at which the food can be prepared or ordered which matters most. We’ve become so accustomed to eating processed foods; most of us have forgotten what real food actually tastes like. The time has arrived to return to the values of days past. With the rising obesity rates and the equally high numbers of overweight individuals, focusing on nutrition and health is vital. We have passed the point of justifying empty calories with excuses. No excuse is substantial enough to validate sacrificing health and wellness.

Returning to a healthier diet isn’t as difficult as one might imagine. Though it does take a little more thought and time than most of us are used to, it is well worth the extra effort. The key to eating healthy is planning ahead. The internet is a great tool which can be used to find a multitude of healthy recipes. Most of the recipes provide preparation and cook times. Calorie and fat counts can be found for every food, food combination, and recipe. Even fast food restaurants have nutritional information on their websites. Find recipes you are interested in making and think your family will enjoy. Print them out and keep them in a binder. Use the ingredient lists to make a grocery list.

Before going to the grocery store, write a list of items you need to create healthy meals. It is best to plan your snacks in advance also. When you are at the store, limit the items you purchase which have little or no real nutritional value. It is easier to avoid eating food you should not have when it isn’t readily available. Instead stock your kitchen with healthy snack items. Fruit and vegetables make delicious and filling snacks. Since fruits and vegetables aren’t always a favorite snack choice, you can make them more enticing by using various dips. If you choose low fat options, you won’t have to limit the amount you indulge in. Some good options include low fat caramel dip, peanut butter melted in the microwave, or a low fat vegetable dip.

Commit to making meals at home. You have more control over what your food is cooked in and how it is cooked when you prepare it yourself. Though it will take a few more minutes than buying a meal in a box, the benefits are worth the extra time. Avoid fast food meals completely. A nutritionist was once quoted as saying “if you love your children, you won’t feed them fast food.” Don’t fool yourself into believing you are providing a good meal for your family because you are eating together. Fast food restaurants are loaded with fat, sodium, and excess calories. A fast food meal is comparable to eating a junk food dinner.

Your diet should be loaded with whole grains, fruits and vegetables. These items should be staples in your diet. Each meal should consist mainly of these foods. Half of your dinner and lunch plates should be vegetables, a quarter grains, and the remainder can be meat. A person only needs eight ounces of meat each day which can be divided between two meals or eaten in one. Avoid eating white pastas and breads. These foods can spike your blood sugar levels causing you to experience ravenous episodes. Instead, eat whole grain breads and pastas. A good rule to follow is avoiding white products. Remember the whiter they are, the more nutrients that were stripped out.

Serving sizes are much larger than what they should be. Most people probably don’t even know what a normal serving size looks like anymore. When you eat at a restaurant, you receive a monstrous portion. One serving of meat should be equivalent in size to a deck of cards. The six ounce bagels served at most coffee shops are twice the correct serving size and offer more than double the amount of calories. Even drinks have increased in size, sold in twenty ounce bottles. These bottles contain two and a half servings. The only liquid beverage which should be consumed in these quantities is water.

Combating obesity isn’t going to happen overnight and it certainly won’t be painless. Our society is used to eating fast, eating big, and eating whatever we want. You will have to retrain your body to recognize what it really needs. When you fill your body with junk foods, your body craves more junk food. Your body also signals you to eat more often than you need. This happens because the body isn’t receiving the nutrients it needs from the food being provided. When you eat healthy and nutritious foods, you will feel less hungry less often. You will have more energy to engage in physical activity. And you won’t need to eat as much food to satisfy your hunger. The time has come to make a commitment to becoming healthy. Your body will feel and look better. And your children will grow up strong and healthy. Isn’t that worth the effort?

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