Obesity refers to the excessive accumulation of fat within the body, thereby causing health impairment (Villareal, Apovian, and Kushner 923-930). Obese individuals are susceptible to diseases such as diabetes and high blood pressure. Obesity has emerged as one of the major public health challenges, especially in developed countries such as the United States.
In 2012, the prevalence of obesity in every state in the US exceeded 20% (Zanni). The prevalence of obesity varies by demographic characteristics such as sex, age, ethnicity, and race. This paper discusses the causes, problems, and solutions to obesity among children, adults, and the elderly.
Empirical studies indicate that obesity among children in the US is steadily increasing. The prevalence rate among children aged between two and five years increased from 5% in 1970 to 14% by the end of 2003 (Friedman and Schwartz 717-725).
Among children aged six to eleven years, the prevalence rate increased from 4% to 19% over the same period. However, studies conducted in 2013 indicate that the prevalence of obesity among preschool children from low-income families is falling (Editorial Board).
One of the major factors the lead to obesity is the increased energy gap among children. The energy gap occurs when there is an “imbalance between excess energy intake and energy expenditure” (Friedman and Schwartz 717-725). This imbalance often occurs due to increased consumption of high-calorie foods and less engagement in physical activities. Most children eat processed foodstuffs that contain high calories and little nutrients.
The preference for these foodstuffs can be explained by the fact that they are easily available through various distribution channels such as convenient shops (Friedman and Schwartz 717-725). Additionally, low-income families prefer high-calorie foodstuffs since they tend to be inexpensive. This explains, in part, the high prevalence of obesity among children from low-income families.
High-calorie foodstuffs supply a lot of energy in the body. However, opportunities to utilize excess energy tend to be declining in contemporary society. For instance, physical education classes and sports activities are being phased out in most schools (Friedman and Schwartz 717-725).
Also, children are increasingly shifting from energy-intensive outdoor games to sedentary indoor entertainment such as video games. As a result, the excess energy in their bodies turns into fat, which in turn causes obesity.
Obesity among children has both medical and psychological consequences. Obese children are likely to suffer from type 2 diabetes mellitus and cardiovascular diseases (Friedman and Schwartz, 717-725). Obesity is also associated with the occurrence of asthma and orthopedic complications among children. Psychologically, obese children are susceptible to various forms of stigmatization. These include teasing, social exclusion, verbal abuses, and bullying.
Consequently, obese children tend to suffer from high depression and low self-esteem (Friedman and Schwartz, 717-725). These challenges lead to a low quality of life among obese children.
Another challenge of childhood obesity is that the majority of obese children often become obese adults. Thus, obese children are likely grapple with the consequences of obesity throughout their lives. This explains in part, the relatively short lifespan among obese children.
Obesity among children can be reduced through behavior change and enforcement of policies that regulate the consumption of high-calorie foods. Parents should encourage their children to eat healthy foodstuffs such as fruits and homemade meals rather than processed foods. Schools should improve the nutritional standards of the meals that they serve to children (Friedman and Schwartz 717-725).
Additionally, they should limit the sale of undesirable foodstuffs such as French fries and high-sugar snacks. Apart from eating high-quality foodstuffs, children should be encouraged to engage in physical activities to expend excess energy in their bodies. In this regard, schools should introduce mandatory physical education classes and sports activities to prevent obesity among children.
Obesity among Adults
Obesity is also a major health problem among adults or people aged between 20 and 64 years. For instance, it affects nearly one-third of the US adult population (Pollack). In most states in the US, obesity tends to be more prevalent among women than men (Flegal, Carroll and Ogden 235-240).
Obesity among adults is mainly caused by high-calorie intake, excessive consumption of high-sugar drinks, and living a sedentary lifestyle (Zanni). Taken together, these factors often lead to excessive fat accumulation in the body, thereby causing obesity. Recent studies have established a link between genetic composition and obesity among adults.
In particular, scientists have discovered a high-risk variant of the FTO gene, which increases the occurrence of obesity (Cook). Individuals with the high-risk variant of the FTO gene tend to have high levels of ghrelin, which indices high food consumption. Ghrelin is a hormone that triggers hunger pangs. Individuals with high levels of ghrelin in their blood tend to eat a lot, especially high-calorie foods.
This increases their chances of being obese. The link between genes and obesity can be illustrated by the correlation between the body mass index (BMI) of parents and the BMI of their children. In particular, the BMI of adopted children tends to be correlated with those of their biological parents rather than their adoptive parents (Zanni). Obesity among adults can also be caused by illnesses such as Prader-Willi and Bardet-Biedl syndrome (Cook).
However, these diseases are very rare. Thus, they are not major causes of obesity. Similarly, the genetic composition is not a major cause of obesity since it accounts for only small variations in the BMI. This implies that lifestyle factors, such as eating high-calorie foods are the main cause of obesity among adults.
Obesity increases the risk of non-communicable diseases such as “heart attack, stroke, diabetes, and cancer among adults” (Editorial Board). According to Zanni, nearly 90% of people suffering from type 2 diabetes mellitus are also obese. This suggests that obesity is a major cause of type 2 diabetes mellitus.
However, some scientists disagree with this perspective by arguing that the relationship between obesity and type 2 diabetes mellitus is bidirectional. Thus, obesity can be both a consequence and a cause of type 2 diabetes mellitus (Zanni).
Obesity also has direct and indirect costs among working adults. Obese adults have up to 25% more physician visits than non-obese individuals (Finkelstein, Strombotne, and Popkin).
Moreover, they tend to have more inpatient days than non-obese individuals do. In this regard, high healthcare utilization rate among working obese adults increases employers’ expenditure on healthcare. Obesity also leads to indirect costs, such as absenteeism and low productivity at work.
Obesity among adults can be managed in several ways. To begin with, it can be prevented by living a healthy lifestyle. This involves eating foods with fewer calories and engaging in physical activities such as working out at a gym to prevent excessive accumulation of fat in the body. Obesity can also be treated with various drugs such as orlistat, phentermine, and metformin (Zanni).
These drugs are often used in conjunction with dietary interventions to ensure weight loss among obese adults. Despite their potential to reduce body weight, the use of these drugs to treat obesity has always been criticized.
Opponents of the use of various drugs to treat obesity argue that drugs such as orlistat and metformin have side effects that might worsen the health conditions of the patients. For instance, orlistat can lead to uncontrollable movement of bowels.
Furthermore, most obese adults tend to regain weight after stopping to use most of the drugs above (Zanni). This suggests that most of the drugs used to treat obesity might not be very effective. Consequently, they should be supplemented with other interventions such as physical exercise.
Bariatric surgery can also be used to treat chronic cases of obesity. The surgery helps in reducing body weight, as well as managing health conditions such as hypertension among obese adults. The disadvantage of bariatric surgery is that it can lead to dehydration and food intolerance.
Counseling also helps in managing obesity among adults. Most physicians and caregivers use counseling to advise obese individuals on the side effects of the various drugs that are used to treat the condition. Moreover, counseling helps in encouraging behavior change to reduce or prevent obesity.
Obesity among the Elderly
Obesity is a serious health concern among individuals aged above 65 years because interventions that are meant to reduce body weight can have severe effects on muscles and bones at old age (Villareal, Apovian and Kushner 923-930). Also, the effectiveness of the drugs used to treat obesity at old age remains uncertain.
Obesity among the elderly is mainly caused by high energy intake and reduced energy expenditure. Although energy intake does not reduce at old age, total energy expenditure reduces with advanced aging (Villareal, Apovian, and Kushner 923-930).
The reduction in energy expenditure is explained by the decline in resting metabolic rate, thermic effect of food, and physical activity at old age. Reduced total energy expenditure at old age leads to excessive accumulation of fat, thereby causing obesity.
Old age is also characterized by hormonal changes that lead to increased fat accumulation and reduced fat-free mass (FFM). Aging leads to decreased secretion of growth hormone and serum testosterone (Villareal, Apovian, and Kushner 923-930).
This leads to a reduction in FFM and a rise in fat mass. Aging also leads to resistance to leptin, which in turn reduces the ability to maintain normal appetite and consumption of food. In this regard, excessive appetite leads to high food consumption, thereby causing obesity.
Obesity often causes death in old age by increasing the risk of diseases such as hypertension and diabetes. Obesity also causes medical complications such as metabolic abnormalities, arthritis, pulmonary abnormalities, cataracts, and urinary incontinence (Villareal, Apovian, and Kushner 923-930). These complications reduce the quality of life and increase mortality rates among elderly people.
Apart from medical consequences, obesity has severe functional implications among the elderly. Increased weight reduces the ability of obese elderly people to engage in physical activities such as walking, bathing, and grooming (Villareal, Apovian, and Kushner 923-930).
However, various studies have indicated that obesity can also be beneficial at old again e since it leads to improved bone mineral density. It also reduces osteoporosis among the elderly. Nonetheless, the increase in bone mineral density can also lead to mobility problems among obese adults.
Obesity among elderly people can be managed through lifestyle change interventions, pharmacotherapy, and surgery. Lifestyle interventions include eating foods with fewer calories and engaging in appropriate physical activities (Villareal, Apovian, and Kushner 923-930).
It also involves behavior therapy, such as providing social support to the elderly and encouraging them to reduce their weight gradually. Pharmacotherapy involves using various drugs to treat obesity. However, this intervention often leads to more medical complications.
Furthermore, Medicare and most health insurance policies do not cover the medicines used to treat obesity, thereby making pharmacotherapy expensive (Pollack). Bariatric surgery can significantly reduce body weight among obese adults. However, it is associated with high mortality rates among elderly people. Thus, lifestyle interventions seem to be the most appropriate solution to obesity among the elderly.
Obesity is a health condition that occurs due to excessive fat accumulation in the body. The prevalence of obesity continues to rise, especially among children and adults, as well as low-income households. Obesity is a serious health problem because it leads to death through diseases such as diabetes and hypertension.
The main causes of obesity include the consumption of high-calorie foods and living a sedentary lifestyle. Obesity can be managed through lifestyle change interventions, pharmacotherapy, and surgery. However, the effectiveness of these interventions depends on the age of the patient.
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