WHAT IS OBESITY

Introduction

Obesity is the term used to describe a physical state in which a person is excessively overweight and their health is almost definitely jeopardised as a result.  The energy intake from consumed foods is stored as fat as the body does not use it. 

Obesity is one of the leading preventable causes of death worldwide.  There is high and increasing rates of obesity among children and adults and authorities view it as one of the most serious public health problems of the 21st century.  Degenerative diseases are directly and indirectly linked with obesity.  There are also mental and emotional health problems and deterioration associated with obesity.  In most westernised cultures obesity is negatively stigmatised.  People who are obese suffer from harmful social exclusion, discrimination and victimisation.  Sadly, social, medical and personal problems which are all factors relating or leading to obesity in many people, are often ignored. 

Obesity is not new.  Historical records show people have experienced obesity for many centuries. 

One example of this comes from Ancient Egypt.  It is thought, the Ancient Egyptians, considered obesity to be a disease.  This has been discovered by through ancient drawings depicting obese people displayed alongside those with other diseases.  

Conversely, in certain cultures and areas where food is scarce and poverty is prevalent obesity was, and sometimes still is, perceived as a symbol of wealth and social status or even fertility.  Some African tribes purposely increase the weight of a bride-to-be to prepare her for child bearing.  Before the wedding date can be set or ceremonial arrangements made, a slim bride is pampered with extravagant foods in order to gain weight until she reaches the suitable weight – being overweight or obese. 

Over the years, although there has been increasing awareness of the causes of obesity and prevention techniques, it has now reached such high levels it is referred to as an ‘epidemic’.   It is only recently, that alarming rates of obesity have caused enormous concern within the medical world as it is now seen as a public health problem. 

 

‘Types’ of Obesity – Hyperplasia or Hypertrophy of Fats Cells

 

There are two types of obesity – this theory is been based on differences between the anatomical characteristics of adipose tissues.  Adipose tissue is the loose connective tissue which is responsible for energy storage in the form of fat (lipids).  It also provides insulation from heat and cold and offers protective padding around vital organs e.g. the liver. 

Adipose tissue contains several cell types, with the highest percentage of cells being adipocytes (more commonly known as fat cells), which contain fat droplets.  The two different types of obesity are seen in children and adults, with one more predominately identified in children and the other predominately found in adults. 

Children

Adults

Hyperplasia of adipose cells – this is an increase in the number of fat cells. The number of cells can be as much as five times greater than those found in a healthy child of average weight. Fat cells can also show some enlargement, but this is not vast. The core and extremities of the human body experience hyperplasia of adipose cells.

Hypertrophy of adipose cells – this is when adipose cells are greatly enlarged or ‘hypertrophied’. The number of fat cells may be same or may increase slightly in adults. Fat distribution is mostly centralised in this type.

 
The Impact of Genetics on Weight
 
Weight loss efforts are impacted on by hormonal regulation. This section of course very briefly introduces you to the aspect of hormonal regulation in weight loss and weight control.  Holistic approach to fat loss is essential.
 
Firstly, it is vital to understand and recognise the human body’s instinctive survival mechanisms. Survival of the human body is deep seated in the regulatory controls which take place on a daily basis in the body. As humans carry on living over future millennia, then we would expect to see a continuance in the evolution of physiological processes. 
 
For now though we must take a look back at how the body was designed to survive through times of famine. In past era’s human beings survived times of extreme famine and times of surplus food. As a result of inconsistent supplies of food back in the dawn of human kind, humans were genetically programmed to be able to make stores for energy supplies within the body. Additionally this inconsistency has continued over the years. Depending on the state of the country in terms of how it was governed or who it was governed by, how humans developed weaponry for hunting, or the country’s wealth and economic state, the access to food was altered. This is still the case in some nations today. 
 
Energy storage exists within everyone. Humans have physiological systems in which we store fat molecules as energy in adipose tissues. We can also store sugar in the form of glycogen in the liver and muscles. We can convert other substances such as protein into a usable energy form also e.g. protein from muscle tissue into glycogen through a process called gluconeogenesis. This process was also vital to human survival throughout times of famine. 
 
 
Do You Understand the Terminology? 
  • Gluconeogenesis: this process in which glycogen can be formed form conversion of non-carbohydrate sources. 
  • Glycogenesis: this is the chemical process in which glucose molecules are added to long existing chains of glycogen for storage in the body. 
  • Glycolysis: anaerobic reaction which takes place to release energy and form NADH and ATP. 
  • Glycogen: a polysaccharide which serves as a form of energy storage in the liver and muscle tissue. 
  • Glucose: simple monosaccharide found in plants used in energy production in the body absorbed directly in to the bloodstream during digestion. 
You should note that our genetic patterns and physiological behaviours were not formed over short periods, but instead over thousands of years humans have existed on earth. We are not talking about periods of starvation during which humans would not ingest any food types at all for long periods, instead we are talking about when food supplies were reduced and humans experienced famine.  
 
Today when we reduce food intake through calorie controlled diets we are creating a false sense of (or voluntary state of) famine for the body to respond to. The body is programmed to respond in the same way as it did millennia ago, therefore the body does not know that food is plentiful for the most part, it does not know that grocery stores and supermarkets exist, and you have consciously decided to reduce your calorific input – it is ‘trained’ to make the body survive. 
 
So when we consciously reduce food intake, the body is programmed to act as if it is experiencing a famine. In this state two things generally happen: 
 
  1. The body’s metabolism slows down so we can conserve energy (for future survival). 
  2. The body receives signals to eat to increase the stores as quickly as possible i.e. we feel hungry. 
There is a vast array of biochemical and electrochemical pathways involved in receiving signals relating to food intake (e.g. hunger, appetite etc.) however, for the purpose of this lesson you are not required to know them in depth. Should you wish to understand this to a greater depth, the school suggests that students carry out their own additional reading or research. 
 
In summary, the human body is designed to encourage us to eat more when we experience ‘famine’ and systems which we reply on to help us lose weight actually do the opposite of what we desire. 
 

 

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