Obesity epidemic in the US: What to do?


By Maureen Aylward

One third of Americans are overweight and nearly a third of people under 20 are obese. We asked our Zintro experts to discuss the current leading ideas, approaches, or policies that are being developed to address the obesity epidemic in the US.
Sandra Ham, an expert in epidemiology and obesity, says that the obesity epidemic requires a systems approach because its causes and solutions are interrelated across multiple sectors of society including the food system, schools, the built environment, and healthcare system. “The environment in the US is obesogenic, meaning that it is easier to become obese than to maintain a healthy weight because unhealthy foods are cheaper than healthy foods and physical activity has been engineered out of everyday life, Ham says. “Current leading ideas and approaches target some key interactions between policy, the physical environment, social environment, healthcare system and individual behavior.”

Ham says that childhood obesity is the primary target for several reasons:

  • Overweight and obese kids are more likely to become obese adults than to become healthy weight adults.
  • Research is showing that some obesity-related diseases including type 2 diabetes are more severe and difficult to manage when they occur in youth versus adults.
  • Kids who adopt healthy habits for eating and physical activity are more likely to continue those habits throughout their lives.

“One strategy is to empower youth to make healthy choices that affect their environment. Farm-to-school programs purchase fresh fruits and vegetables from local farmers to serve for school breakfasts and lunches. Kids learn about sustainable and local agriculture while also learning how to choose to eat a healthy diet that includes locally-grown foods,” Ham says. “The potential long-term benefits go beyond healthy weight—youth may become more educated consumers with a taste for farm-fresh produce that supports the local and regional economy.”

Another strategy Ham suggests is to promote healthy eating at the policy level. “The USDA recently revised the minimum nutrition standards for school breakfasts and lunches and is working on standards for snack foods and beverages that are sold in schools outside mealtimes,” she says. “The aim of these policies is to make schools a safe haven from the obesogenic food environment where it is easier for kids to choose to consume healthy foods and beverages than junk foods and sugar-loaded beverages.”

David Koivuranta, an expert in corporate health and wellness, says that quite often the focus is on looking outside ourselves for a solution to weight problems; however, the cause or the source of the obesity epidemic is actually inside of us. “It relates to physical, chemical and emotional stress from our environments that are creating a chronic stress response in our bodies. Because of this, our nervous systems and endocrine systems are stuck in habits and patterns that suppress the immune systems, digestive systems, and reproductive organs. This sets the stage for weight gain that cannot be lost until these underlying problems are addressed,” he says.

Koivuranta explains that a return to lifestyle choices that promote optimum physical, chemical, and emotional well being on a maintenance level will foster an environment in the body that can not only decrease body fat and increase lean muscle, but also heal chronic illnesses and diseases. “There is hope and there is a step-by-step process to get it done. Society can benefit, but it will take a a paradigm shift from our crisis care model of health care to one of prevention and proactive choices that meet our expectations of health, happiness and prosperity in life.”

Karen Russell, a registered dietetic technician and health coach, thinks the obesity epidemic has gotten out of hand. “Diabetes is also on the rise in the US. I see overweight men and women along with their children. The only way to stop this epidemic is to make changes in how we shop, cook and eat,” she says. “Dieting is the old way of doing things and is a negative approach that is temporary most of the time. Dieting is restrictive and unbalanced.

Russell suggests a more positive approach, which is to incorporate small changes in the ingredients used in recipes. “People benefit from learning what to do step by step so changes can be made to live the right way without deprivation or starving. Also getting rid of inflammatory foods so that the digestive system can function at it’s best is best practice and can lead to losing weight,” she says.

What do you think?

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Obesity epidemic in the US: Lifestyle changes needed


By Maureen Aylward

One third of Americans are overweight and nearly a third of people under 20 are obese. We asked our Zintro experts to discuss the current leading ideas, approaches, or policies that are being developed to address the obesity epidemic in the US.
Mangesius, an expert in systems biology, says that the world has an over-nutrition problem, and the root cause of the obesity problem is that the supply of food has evolved faster than our bodies’ ability to process the excess food intake. “Glucose is the fuel of life, and glucose metabolism evolved over hundreds of millions of years, but humans have evolved over an infinitesimally shorter time period,” he says. “The human mind, always seeking more efficient solutions, found new ways to satisfy the body’s nutritional needs, and the result is an exponential increase in food choices and a matching decrease in physical activity.”

Mangesius says that everything we eat or drink that contains nutrients will sooner or later send glucose into the blood (compartment), and the blood will take glucose to each and every cell (which can be thought of as a bunch of other compartments). “Like everything else in the body, the amount of glucose in the blood is tightly regulated, not only day by day, but second by second; that is to say, any excess glucose produced by processing the food we eat in the digestive system must be stored,” he says. “Carbohydrates currently dominate human nutrition and most engineered foods contain refined sugars which, unfortunately in terms of their dynamics of turning into glucose, provide the fastest glucose bio-availability and thus are the leading cause of excess.”

The body is a 24/7, complex appliance that needs less power than a laptop, says Mangesius, yet is unbelievably efficient: it keeps the body moving, brain thinking, heart pumping five liters of blood, the temperature is maintained, food is processed and digested, and so on. “Because it is so amazingly efficient, your body only has a very limited ability to consume the excess energy: one can easily consume a meal that is much larger than the body needs, but one simply cannot do enough physical exercise to restore the balance within a reasonable time interval afterwards,” he explains. “When too much energy is available from food, but too little energy is consumed through physical activity, the body stores the difference as fat at every step of the metabolic processes. These excess fat deposits have led to the current world-wide epidemic of obesity, pre-diabetes, and type 2 diabetes, plus the huge increases in the incidence of type 1 diabetes. The long term cure must find its foundation in a different approach to nutrition.”

Eileen Enright, a holistic health coach, says that the ultimate approach is not to dwell on calories, carbs, fats, and proteins or create lists of restrictions or good and bad foods; instead, it is to foster the belief that nutrition can create a happy, healthy life in a way that is flexible, fun and rewarding. “I work with clients to reach their health goals in areas such as achieving optimal weight, reducing food cravings, increasing sleep, and maximizing energy. As we work together, clients grasp a deeper understanding of the food and lifestyle choices that work best for them and implement lasting changes that will improve their energy, balance and health,” she says. “It’s easy to overlook all of the things that contribute to our sense of nourishment and fulfillment. It’s not just the food we eat, but all of the other factors present in our daily lives: healthy relationships, a fulfilling career, regular physical activity, and a spiritual awareness. All of these factors are essential forms of nourishment, and when these “primary foods” are balanced, what you eat becomes secondary.”

What do you think?

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More on cutting red meat out of the diet


By Maureen Aylward

Recent studies from the Harvard School of Public Health say that eating red meat may shorten a person’s lifespan. It says that cutting back on red meat by one serving a day could lower the risk of dying. We asked our Zintro experts to dig into the study and explain what elements in the study are most important to pay attention to.

David Harvard, an expert in biochemistry and molecular biology, says that such a large number of study subjects (37,698 men and 83,644 women) derived from two separate cohorts allows for the determination of rather precise measurements of risk and the replication of findings. “The distinction between processed and unprocessed red meats, and the evaluation of dietary substitutes for red meat, is improvements over another previously published large cohort study of mortality risk associated with red meat intake,” Harvard says. “There remain however, some important limitations of this study. The composition of both cohorts was predominantly non-Hispanic white professionals and, therefore, the generalizing of these findings to other populations remains unclear.” Harvard questions how great are the risks for Asian or Black populations for example, particularly those that are of lower socioeconomic status. “These populations may not only differ from their Caucasian counterparts by underlying genetic predispositions, but also in the quality of the red meats they can afford to purchase compared with study subjects who self-identify as professionals.”

Harvard says that the authors hypothesized several pathogenic mechanisms to explain their results. “Saturated fat, cholesterol content, iron overload, salt and nitrites added to meats during processing, and the generation of carcinogens during cooking was all discussed as potential mechanisms that contribute to mortality,” Harvard explains. “Not discussed, however, is the high omega-6/omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid composition of today’s agriculturally derived meats due to the current practice of raising farm animals on diets high in omega-6 polyunsaturated fats (e.g. corn). Omega-6 fatty acids are highly pro-inflammatory while the omega-3 analogs are much less so. We know that cancer, cardiovascular disease, and a host of other illnesses have an important inflammatory component to them which can be modified by omega-3 dietary supplementation.”

Harvard points out that it has been calculated that modern western diets have omega-6/omega-3 fatty acid ratios 10 to 20-fold higher than our Paleolithic ancestors. “We are literally gorging ourselves on pro-inflammatory precursors now known to promote cancer, cardiovascular disease and numerous other progressive diseases,” he says. “While the results of the Harvard study may at first surprise the general public, the risks reported are small and these findings are unlikely to result in significant population dietary changes or a major threat to the beef industry any time soon. We live in a fast paced society that even the best intended among us will tend to fall back to old eating habits because we often need to grab a quick meal on the run without much thought about the long-term consequences.”

Christie Moore, an expert in the vegetarian food industry, says that the most important elements to pay attention to are the physiological results of animal protein consumption. “The sulphur-containing amino acid, homocysteine, promotes tiny clots that initiate arterial damage. Homocysteine is up to 40 times more predictive than cholesterol in cardiovascular risk. It results from normal metabolism of the amino acid methionine, which is abundant in red meat, milk, and dairy products,” Moore explains. “The body takes excess protein out of the blood, converts the soluble protein into collagen fiber, and stores it in the basal membranes of arterial and capillary walls. Storing protein in blood vessel walls hinders the passage of adequate amounts of oxygen, glucose, and other essential nutrients to the cells. Protein deposits in blood sinusoids hinder serum cholesterol from leaving the bloodstream. The liver cells perceive a shortage of cholesterol in the body thus stimulating the production of cholesterol to abnormally high levels.”

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