By Katharine Lang — Fact checked by Rita Ponce, Ph.D.
Obesity is a risk factor for many health conditions. Current treatments include calorie restriction, bariatric surgery, and medications. But the number of people with obesity continues to increase. Many factors lead to weight gain, including the increased availability of calorie-dense foods. Today looked at whether culinary medicine might be an effective treatment for obesity, and investigated what approaches might work on a population level.
Obesity is a risk factor for many health conditions. Current treatments include calorie restriction, bariatric surgery, and medications. But the number of people with obesity continues to increase. Many factors lead to weight gain, including the increased availability of calorie-dense foods. Medical News Today looked at whether culinary medicine might be an effective treatment for obesity, and investigated what approaches might work on a population level.
According to the World Health OrganizationTrusted Source (WHO), in 2016 more than 1.9 billion adults worldwide were overweight and, of these, 650 million had obesity. The worldwide prevalence of obesity tripled between 1975 and 2016.
In the United States, more than 40%Trusted Source of adults have obesity, and in the United Kingdom, more than a quarter live with the condition.
Obesity is known to be detrimental to health. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) list many risks of obesityTrusted Source, including:
- increased mortality (death risk) from all causes
- high blood pressure (hypertension)
- high LDL cholesterol, low HDL cholesterol, or high levels of triglycerides (dyslipidemia)
- type 2 diabetes
- coronary heart disease
- osteoarthritis — a breakdown of cartilage and bone within a joint
- sleep apnea and breathing problems
- many types of cancerTrusted Source.
A reportTrusted Source published in August 2022 gave the following warning: “Given dire implications in terms of comorbidities and mortality, these updated epidemiological findings call for coordinated actions from local and regional governments, the scientific community and individual patients alike, as well as the food industry for the obesity pandemic to be controlled and alleviated.”
The authors called for coordinated international efforts to combat the obesity pandemic similar to those used against COVID-19.
Why is obesity on the rise?
A recent editorial in the journal ObesityTrusted Source suggested the following explanations for the rise in this condition:
“Increase in per capita food supply, increased availability and marketing of high-calorie and high-glycemic-index foods and drinks, larger food portions, leisure time physical activities being replaced with sedentary activities such as watching television and use of electronic devices, inadequate sleep, and the use of medications that increase weight.”
Dr. Mir Ali, bariatric surgeon and medical director of MemorialCare Surgical Weight Loss Center at Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, CA, concurred, telling Medical News Today that “the causes of obesity are multifactorial; certainly genetics plays a role; evolution is a very slow process but can also play a role.”
“Primarily, obesity is driven by the change in our diets to more energy-dense foods, a more sedentary lifestyle, and environmental factors, such as urbanization can also play a role,” he explained.
Risks in cases of childhood obesity
Obesity is not increasing only in adults — the number of children with obesity has risen alarmingly. Worldwide, the number of children and adolescents with obesity has increased tenfold since 1975. If this trend continues, soon there may be more children with obesityTrusted Source than there are underweight children.
This is particularly worrying, as obesity when young predisposes a person to many health issues.
Dr. Daniel Ganjian, a pediatrician at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, CA, told MNT: “The younger a child is when developing obesity, the higher the chances of developing health problems as an adult. Furthermore, the earlier the child suffers from obesity, the earlier the health problems begin.”
These health problemsTrusted Source may include fatty liver disease, sleep apnea, type 2 diabetes, asthma, cardiovascular disease, high cholesterol, menstrual abnormalities, impaired balance, and orthopedic problems.
And children with obesity are likely to continue with obesity into adolescence and even adulthood. According to one analysis of existing studiesTrusted Source, 55% of children with obesity will go on to have obesity in adolescence, and 80% of those adolescents will still have obesity when adults.
“Unfortunately, there is no clear cut, long term solution. Education on healthy eating at an early age would be an excellent starting point, as well as establishing and encouraging proper exercise; and reducing or limiting the ease of accessibility to energy dense foods may also help have a significant impact.”
– Dr. Mir Ali
However, the same analysis notes that of adults with obesity, 70% did not have childhood obesity, so targeting childhood obesity is unlikely to solve the problem.
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