You have heard the news. According to the most recent statistics, nearly two-thirds of us are overweight and about half are obese. Our waistlines keep expanding and we are becoming a sicker nation.
Childhood obesity has more than tripled in the past 30 years, reports the Centers for Disease Control. Obesity, now rated as an epidemic, is about to take over smoking as the leading cause of ill health in the United States. The sooner we realize and address the problem, the better will be our future as a nation.
True, a small percentage may have some medical illnesses contributing to their weight gain and genes may play their part, too. But the majority of people put on weight from consuming more calories than their bodies need. Most people simply cannot resist food.
This may not be the best time to talk about it since Thanksgiving feasts are nearly upon us and the December holidays are approaching. There are parties to attend and food consumption is at its peak. But that is the very reason to address the situation, so you can eat healthy during the festive season and avoid putting on those extra pounds.
I see obese patients staggering in for treatment, day in and day out. Some of them are seriously ill. How much danger does this condition pose? Both the American Heart Association and American College of Cardiology have said obesity is a major risk factor for serious heart disease and diabetes mellitus.
Take the recent case of a 67-year-old patient. She is a very obese diabetic and had three recent hospitalizations — for heart failure, which required intensive care for several days; for pneumonia when she had to go on a respirator; and the third time, for phlebitis of the legs. Every single admission was a close call to death, but with great difficulty and aggressive treatment, she survived.
Obese patients suffer from a litany of diseases including high blood pressure, heart disease, cancer, respiratory infections, arthritis, post-operative complications and more. The risk for diabetes goes up astronomically if a person is just moderately obese.
How do you know you are overweight or obese? Doctors use body mass index, BMI, as the gauge. You can calculate your BMI by a simple equation: body weight in kilograms divided by height in meters squared (Kg/M2). But it is easier to refer the standard BMI charts and get your number.
Ideal BMI of 20 to 24.9 is the same for all population, from new born to elderly. A BMI of up to 29.5 is overweight and over 30 is obese. Complications abound as you cross the threshold of 30.
Weight loss success is often an elusive target for many. My patients suffer through my lecture on controlling their weight during their office visit and do the best they can to comply with my instructions. "I am earnestly working on it, Doc," they tell me, but at least a few feel that slimming down to optimal weight is simply a losing proposition.
We need to get rid of that mentality. Healthy eating and increased physical activity are the key elements in dropping pounds. Portion control is the key.
Unfortunately, there is no magic pill and one has to do it the hard way. You can consult a dietitian who can chalk out a good menu for you or go to a weight-loss clinic, simultaneously signing up for a doable exercise program that you can maintain for a longer period. There are all kinds of fad diets out there, often endorsed by celebrities; they may not be for you.
The South Beach Diet by Miami cardiologist Dr. Arthur Agastaton, endorsed by former President Bill Clinton, is probably the best I can think of, but at the core of the issue is simply eating less calories.
First Lady Michelle Obama has realized how serious the problem of childhood obesity is and has set an ambitious goal to eliminate it. "We want our kids to face a different and more optimistic future in terms of their lifespan," she said recently on Good Morning America.
So, when you go for the holiday celebrations, fill your belly with lots of salad with a low-calorie dressing. Go easy on alcoholic beverages and eat less of the entree. This way you can enjoy a bit of dessert.
We should resolve to curb the temptation. We should not indulge indiscriminately and we should try to stick to a healthy diet.
Dr. M. P. Ravindra Nathan is a Brooksville cardiologist.