Rates of obesity have risen rapidly since the 1980s, thanks to a variety of factors. This rise in obesity has led to widespread effects on health; obese people are much more likely to develop cardiovascular, orthopedic, gastrointestinal (GI) and other health problems at some point in their life – even if their obesity isn’t currently causing symptoms.
The Rise in Obesity
Obesity has become an epidemic over the last several decades. 60.5% of Americans were overweight as of 2005, while 23.9% were classified as obese, and 3% were severely obese. Children are far from immune from these effects: an unprecedented 17% of children are obese, with 5% classified as severely obese. Children who are obese are very much more likely to stay obese throughout their lives, with only a small number reaching and maintaining a healthy weight.
Almost every American is at least passingly aware of the risks associated with obesity and poor eating, yet the majority of Americans still struggle with being overweight or obese. On an individual level, a sedentary lifestyle – commonly identified as a culprit – may be a contributing factor. Indeed, studies have shown that increased amounts of television watching are associated with an increase in weight.
However, on a societal level, there hasn’t been much change in overall activity levels over the last few decades; people are just as active today as they were in the 1970s. More to blame are changes in diet. Since the 1970s, portion sizes have increased dramatically, and refined sugar has found its way into almost every processed food. The modern American diet is high in calories, simple carbohydrates, salt, and saturated fat.
What’s more, experts believe that this diet can be addictive. Processed food is designed to be pleasing to the palate, with ideal combinations of sugary and salty tastes that lead consumers to keep coming back for more – even if they know the consequences.
Obesity can impact almost every area of health. Considering the fact that food is so closely linked to obesity, it should be no surprise that GI health is particularly impacted. Obese people have an increased risk of many GI disorders, including:
- Colon polyps
- Colon cancer
- Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), including Crohn’s and colitis
- Liver cirrhosis, cancer, and disease
- Pancreatic cancer
- Esophageal cancer
The causes of obesity are complex and hard to address on a societal level, and the epidemic doesn’t show signs of slowing down. However, there is still a great deal of hope for every individual patient with obesity. Changing your diet is difficult, but it can reduce your risk of a wide range of conditions, and even help treat and manage any current GI conditions you have.
Exercise is important for long-term health, including GI health, but diet is the key factor. Experts recommend switching to a diet that is rich in vegetables (the more color, the better), whole grains (100% whole wheat bread, quinoa, oats, brown rice), and healthy sources of fat (olive oil and butter as opposed to hydrogenated oils and margarine) and protein (eggs, poultry, soy, lean cuts of red meat), much like the Mediterranean diet. Refined grains and sugar should play a smaller role in the diet.
A regimen of a healthy diet involving portion control, watching calories consumed, and exercising regularly are all integral components needed for weight loss. More information can be acquired and made more applicable to your individual circumstances by talking to your doctor. To schedule a consultation about your gastrointestinal health, please contact one of our GI Alliance physicians.