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Epidemiology of Obesity

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Introduction

According to the data collected by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2008, among 1.5 billion people about 25% were overweight, while about 0.5 million  (or close to 8.5%) were obese.  A report as of 2007 stated that, on average, 34.5% of the Americans were obese, including 33% of men and 36% of women (World Health Organization, 2013). These statistics were just estimates of various sources indicating different figures. Currently, however, most figures prove higher prevalence of obesity among the global population. Distinct trends have prompted the emergence of the global epidemiology of people’s obesity considering different trends such as race, geography, economic prosperity, food distributions and intake among others that play significant roles in determination the probability to become obese. In addition, certain diseases, disorders such as diabetes and Disruptive Sleep Apnea have been associated with obesity (Ogden, Carroll, Kit and Flegal, 2012). This paper will analyze roots and consequences of the epidemiology of obesity and attempt to distinguish what reductive effects it has.

Health, Weight, and Obesity

Health is defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) as the state of complete well- being mentally, physically, and spiritually. The environment, mainly the state of the air, water, and living conditions, is a key determinant of individual and society health. According to the WHO, other health determinants are social and economic environments, the individual behavior as well as the physical environment (World Health Organization, 2013). Considering that food security situations become better, and lifestyle changes that leads towards less physical activity, more and more people throughout the world face the risk of becoming overweight, while increasingly large number of people is becoming obese (Shick, Wing, Klem, McGuire, Hill and Seagle, 1998).

Body Mass Index (BMI) is a mathematical term used to show an individual’s weight to height relationship and is used to determine if one is overweight, underweight, normal weight or obese. BMI is computed as the body mass in kilograms divided by the square of one’s height in meters (Flegal, Carroll, Ogden and Curtin, 2010). Different health organizations and scholarly bodies differ slightly the range of BMI numbers considering the classifications of healthy, underweight, overweight or obese. In the most general sense, BMI less than 18 is considered underweight. Index between 19 and 24 is considered normal, between 25 and 29 is considered overweight, and BMI higher than 29 is obese. The obese category is further split into three classes I, II and III. Class I has BMI between 30 and 35, class II between 36 and 40, class III has BMI above 40.

Obesity is a state of having excessive body fat that results, in many instances, from lack of exercise and high intake of fatty food. Few cases occur where it may be caused by genetic problems, certain medication as well as certain mental diseases. In its most usual form, obesity is marked by the emergence of extreme fat deposits in the various body areas especially in the belly areas, back, thighs, arms and sometimes in the lower legs of an individual (World Health Organization, 2013). As a result of the excessive size, obese individuals may have difficulties with walking, running or doing any other activity involving muscular endurance.

Background of Obesity

Studies in the history of human development have proven that obesity was far much less prevalent among early humans than it is today. Scholars have estimated relatively harder and enduring lifestyles of early humans that hindered them to become obese. This statement is supported by the fact that the prevalence of disease correlates with the varieties of available food, as well as shift towards a more sedentary form of lifestyle. In addition, the obesity trends have shown a gradual increase of the figures documented in the mid-20th century and those of today, suggesting that earlier figures might have been even less. Greek history is perhaps the first documented incident showing a people’s consciousness and outlook towards obesity. The Greek scholar and medical practitioner Hippocrates wrote that obesity was not only a disease itself but an attraction to many others. Other studies show that obesity was related to diabetes and heart disease prior to 6 BCE (Shick et.al, 1998).

As communities developed and settlements were established, people generally travelled less and began farming. The beginning of farming perhaps marked the first major step towards food security and varieties of available food. Food rich in calories is a primary cause of weight gain except certain other cases. Settlement also led to rapid population increase leading to rise of periods in which existing food reserves were unable to sustain the rapidly expanding population. In the middle ages, thus, malnutrition was prevalent in most regions on earth, a condition that was attributed to lack of sufficient and balanced food. During these periods, it might be expected that few cases of obesity were reported, except in families that were able to afford sufficient and significant food (typically ruling class and noble families) leading to the misconception that obesity was desirable and synonymous with richness. This thought is still common among developing nations where food security is unachieved (Shick et.al, 1998).

The next significant period in people’s lifestyles was the industrial revolution which has prompted the process of immigration into cities and industrial centers, especially in the 15th-19th centuries.. The industrial revolution has resulted ultimately in increased income, better living conditions, better health facilities, and more sedentary lifestyles. This era, mostly marked in the late 19th century and continuing to date, has seen the most robust epidemiology of obesity as an undesirable phenomenon and the corresponding mitigation mechanism. Today, most people are aware of the dangers associated with obesity. However, the incidences of obesity in developed countries remain high (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2010). The section below will discuss the history of medicinal review of obesity, as well as discovery of predisposing factors of obesity.

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