Understanding Obesity

The nation’s obesity rate now surpasses 40 percent of all adults, after holding in the 35 percent range as recently as 2012. No U.S. state has had a statistically significant drop in its obesity rate in the past five years.

A person is considered obese when their Body Mass Index (BMI) is 30 or above. Though by no means a perfect indicator of the health of an individual, the BMI weight-to-height ratio is generally accepted as the measure of overweight and obesity. This statistic about the growing prevalence of obesity is particularly concerning in light of the Covid crisis that our country is currently facing; the CDC states emphatically that "having obesity puts people at risk for many other serious chronic diseases and increases the risk of severe illness from COVID-19."

I recently attended a fascinating presentation on #changingobesity - one that was made all the more relevant as we mark the one-year anniversary this month of the time that the words "coronavirus" and "Covid" became household terms. As health and nutrition communities recognize Obesity Care Week (Feb 28 - March 6) (www.obesitycareweek.org) and World Obesity Day on March 4, here are some insights on the disease of obesity:

While many people believe that obesity is caused by overeating, scientists are learning that the reverse is actually true: Obesity causes overeating. Why is this? Look at this chart:

Hormones released from the stomach area signal the brain on both hunger and satiety/ fullness. One of these satiety hormones that comes from the intestines, gulcagon-like peptide 1 or GLP1, is particularly important in making us feel full when we've eaten enough. Compared to leaner people, individuals who are overweight or obese release less of this hormone after eating. Unfortunate, right? (And to make it even harder, when obese people do lose weight, this GLP1 response stays low as part of the body's natural impulse to prevent weight loss by starvation.) What's likely to happen as a result? The person may consume more than is needed, because they don't have the full-feeling we look for after eating.

How does obesity affect response to Covid? We talked about that too, and I'll address that issue here in a couple of weeks.

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