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On the growing problem of obesity

Obesity increases the risk of developing severe symptoms if you have Covid-19.

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Among the prevailing health problems that have beleaguered us, obesity is one non-communicable disease that can become a pandemic of its own. It is not only a matter of appearance, but being too heavy also imposes health risks.

According to the 2019 Expanded National Nutrition Survey, more and more Filipinos are now overweight or obese, at a rate triple of those who are undernourished. More Filipino adults are heavier, from 16 percent in 1993 to 36 percent in 2019.

A combination of eating less and more physical activity is the best way to lose weight. (Photograph courtesy of Unsplash/Towfiqu Barbhuiya)

Being overweight or obese depends on one’s body mass index (BMI), which is measured using your weight and height. Both terms mean that a person’s weight is greater than what is considered healthy for his or her height.

To calculate BMI, multiply weight in pounds by 703, divide by height in inches and then divide again by height in inches. Or divide weight in kilograms by height in meters squared.

Depending on your BMI, you may be considered overweight or obese, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). But Asians have a lower cut-off, meaning that an Asian with a BMI of 23 is already considered overweight, while for others around the world they are still considered to be within normal range.

This different classification is because Asians have a higher percentage of body fat than Caucasians of the same age, sex and BMI. And being too heavy and having increased body fat increases the risk for other health problems

— hypertension, heart disease, stroke, arthritis, diabetes and even some cancers. Obesity increases the risk of developing severe symptoms if you have Covid-19.

Not all fat is created equal either. There are different kinds of fat — subcutaneous or superficial fat that lies on top of our muscles and visceral fat that is found in the abdominal area, under the muscle. Having more visceral fat increases the risks to one’s health.

Having increased body fat increases the risk for other health problems — hypertension, heart disease, stroke, arthritis, diabetes and even some cancers. (Photograph courtesy of Pexels/Andres Ayrton)

For most individuals, BMI is a good way to estimate body fat. BMI, however, does not directly measure body fat. Excess weight may come from fat, bone, body water and muscle. Muscular athletes may have a BMI in the obesity category even though they don’t have excess body fat.

Measuring a person’s waist circumference may be a better guide to assess whether a patient with a higher BMI is at risk for health problems. Those at risk are men with a waist circumference over 40 inches (102 cm) and women with a waist measurement over 35 inches (89 cm).

There are many reasons one may be overweight or obese. In general, this happens over time when you eat more calories than you use. There may be genetic and behavioral reasons for the propensity to gain weight and for the difficulty in trying to lose weight. Obesity tends to run in families, and shared behavior of a poor diet and being sedentary as a family can also contribute.

Aging may also hinder physical activity, while lack of sleep and stress can increase hormones that increase appetite and the tendency to gain weight.

There are certain hormonal conditions that can cause weight gain. Some medications can also lead to weight gain if you also have a bad diet and don’t exercise to compensate. These medications include those for depression, seizures and diabetes, as well as steroids like prednisone and dexamethasone.

The good news is that even a small amount of weight loss can have many health benefits. Losing just five to 10 percent of your weight can help improve or event prevent many health conditions. This means that if you weigh 200 pounds you should lose 10 to 20 pounds.

Weight loss should be gradual, however, or you can just gain it all back. A combination of eating less and more physical activity is the best way to lose weight. No need for complicated or extreme diets. If you ate 500 calories less per day for a week, you would lose one pound. You should aim to lose about half to one pound per week.

If you’re concerned about your weight or any related health problems talk to your doctor. You and your doctor can discuss your risks and weight-loss options.

Be wary of quick fixes. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. You may lose weight on a crash diet, but you’re likely to regain it when you stop the diet. The same can be said about weightloss medications, which may not work for everyone. The effects may wane over time and when you stop taking it, you may regain much or all of the weight you lost.

To lose weight — and keep it off — you should develop healthy eating and exercise habits that you can maintain over time.

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