According to the World Health Organization (WHO), obesity has nearly tripled since 1975, with obese and overweight people making up an astounding 2.1 billion, or around 30%, of the world's population. Even more concerning, the organization estimates that around 41 million children around the globe under the age of 5 were already overweight or obese in 2016.
Causes of obesity
How did we get to this point? For some, genetics play a role in the speed of the metabolism and how the body processes food, making the person more, or less, susceptible to gaining weight. Another biological factor may be a lack of effectiveness of the appetite-reducing hormone leptin, resulting in a delayed feeling of fullness.
For those not genetically prone or medically predisposed to weight gain, overeating, poor food choices and inactivity are the most common causes of a high body mass index (BMI), especially those consuming high levels of processed sugar.
What was once considered a high-income country problem is now on the rise across the board, especially in urban settings where fresh, highly nutritious food is less accessible and more expensive. Statistics show that out of the more than 42 million overweight children under the age of 5 worldwide, 83% live in developing countries. Along this line, obesity has also been linked to malnutrition. Families in low-income countries or those with individually low incomes in developed countries lack the funds to purchase nutritious food, instead opting for cheap alternatives high in calories but low in healthy ingredients.
Compounding the trend worldwide for all levels of consumers, packaged food has become readily available, making it easy to overindulge. Playing to its audience, cleverly marketed, inexpensive preprocessed foods and snacks high in sugar have become hard to resist, especially for children, which can push individuals one step further toward lifelong food addictions or uncontrollable cravings that lead to obesity.
How can we fight this trend, keep our families healthy and reduce our growing waistlines? First, experts suggest at least 30 minutes of physical activity daily to maintain a healthy physique. If you're unable to hit the gym, downloading an app that tracks your activity is helpful in monitoring your goal, which should ideally include walking 10,000 steps a day.
The other important element is food. "Dietary factors causing unhealthy body weight gain and Type 2 diabetes include high intakes of total fat and free sugars, excessive saturated fatty acid consumption and an inadequate intake of fiber-rich foods," a WHO report on the Eastern Mediterranean region said. So, to maintain a healthy lifestyle, being knowledgeable about what you eat is crucial. Skip the fad diets and commit to a lifelong, healthy and balanced diet, including a menu of complex carbohydrates, healthy fats, lean protein, and plenty of fruits and vegetables.
So, what are "good" carbohydrates? It is crucial to distinguish between simple versus complex carbs in your diet. Simple carbs, most often found in foods containing processed sugars, are digested quickly, thus raising glucose levels rapidly, and contain little to no nutritional value on their own. On the other hand, complex carbs take longer to digest due to their complex sugar composition, contain more nutrients and are higher in fiber. However, not all complex-carb-loaded foods are good for your waistline. White bread, cakes and pastries contain complex carbs but are often high in processed sugar and calories and low in fiber. Be sure to search out healthier alternatives like whole wheat breads, brown and wild rice, barley, potatoes, corn and legumes like chickpeas, lentils and beans.
Know your fats
Though we tend to associate the word "fat" as anti-diet, it, along with carbohydrates and protein, are essential macronutrients that the body needs. While it's true saturated fats should be avoided, healthy, or monounsaturated and polyunsaturated, fats help balance cholesterol levels and maintain healthy cells. Dark chocolate, avocados, cheese, whole eggs, nuts, chia seeds, extra virgin olive oil, coconuts and coconut oil, sesame and pumpkin seeds, full-fat yogurt, and fatty fish like salmon, trout, mackerel, sardines and herring are some of the best sources of healthy fats for your diet.
Where to start
So, you may be saying to yourself, "This is all great information, but how am I supposed to implement these changes in my busy schedule?" The answer is: very easily. Every hospital across the country has a dietician ready to help you plan your weight-loss journey. If actually going to the doctor every few weeks seems daunting, there are also weight-loss coaches online, even on social media platforms like Instagram, trained to guide and encourage you virtually along the way. Both options come with personalized menus and exercises to help whip you into shape.
For free spirits
If a structured program isn't for you, sticking to reasonable portions that include some of the healthy options listed above, cutting out junk food and late-night snacking, and buying a smart watch or downloading a step-tracking app to record your activity every day are other sure ways to stay motivated and start shedding pounds. Use your device or app to compete with friends weekly or daily for a friendly race of who takes the most steps or set your own personal goals for the week.