It’s ironic that Africa is now facing a “double burden” of disease. On the one hand, we’re dealing with the problems of infectious diseases and under-nutrition. On the other, we’re battling a rapid rise in non-communicable disease risk factors such as obesity and overweight.
Being overweight or obese means that you have an abnormal or excessive body fat accumulation that may damage your health. The fat tends to collect around the waist, causing an “apple shape.” Obesity and overweight increase your risk of health problems such as heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke and even certain cancers.
Is there a way to measure exactly how overweight someone is, other than appearance or weight?
The most widely accepted measure of weight status is the body mass index or BMI.
- BMI uses a simple calculation based on the ratio of your height and weight (BMI = kg/m2).
- Research shows that since BMI describes the body weight relative to height, it gives a good estimate of total body fat
- BMI also accurately predicts the risk for important health outcomes like diabetes, cancer, heart disease, and overall risk of death. Higher BMI = Higher risk of disease
For adults, The World Health Organisation defines overweight and obesity as:
Overweight is a BMI greater than or equal to 25
Obesity is a BMI greater than or equal to 30.
For a less scientific method, waist measurement is used to define obesity:
- 40 inches (102 cm) or more for men
- 35 inches (89 cm) or more for women
What causes obesity and what are the consequences?
Unhealthy eating habits, too little activity, and too little sleep contribute to overweight and obesity. Heredity plays a lesser role in obesity than you may think. In addition to heart disease, high blood pressure and stroke, diabetes, arthritis and some cancers, obesity puts you at risk for other health problems such as:
- High cholesterol and triglycerides
- Metabolic syndrome — a combination of high blood sugar, high blood pressure, high triglycerides and high cholesterol
- Gynecologic problems – infertility and irregular periods
- Erectile dysfunction and sexual health issues
- Liver disease
- Skin problems, such as poor wound healing
- Sleep apnea
- Mobility problems- People with severe obesity may be unable to move around easily and may require assistive devices like canes, chair lifts, walkers, and even wheelchairs to shower
How can you prevent obesity?
Many factors contribute to obesity including behavioral and emotional factors. Prevention and treatment of obesity will take more than just going on a diet. Making permanent lifestyle modifications to eating, physical activity, and other habits is the best approach overall.
Surprisingly, extreme diets can contribute to increased obesity by slowing your metabolism. Avoid diets that promise substantial weight loss over a short time. Research shows most people gain it back if other lifestyle changes are not in place.
Medication and surgery can be considered as a final course of action only if you can’t make lifestyle changes.
Lifestyle changes to combat overweight and obesity:
- Eat well – healthy nutritious foods
- Stay active – exercise for 30 minutes at least three times a week
- Limit time spent in front of screens – TV, computer, mobile devices, video games
- Get enough sleep – a minimum of 7 hours per night is a good target
- Relax – find healthy ways to de-stress
Updated March 28, 2017