By June Tran
Obesity is a topic that is as common nowadays as the popular iPhone.
According to a report done by the National Center for Health Statistics, between 2009 and 2010, an estimated 36 percent of American adults and 17 percent of youths are obese.
The reason for treating this condition more as a physiological disorder than as an undisciplined behavior spanned from early studies in the 19th century until today’s scientific inquires.
While genetics and other factors play a role, nutrition experts say the easiest way to maintain a healthy weight is by eating a sensible diet.
“There are a lot of different factors and there’s a genetic component,” said Laura Koski, a registered dietitian.
Obesity and the diseases that accompany it became more prevalent over time as people learned to grow their own food and food became more available, especially after the Second World War, according to Prof. Garabed Eknoyan of Baylor College of Medicine. In an article published by the National Kidney Foundation, Eknoyan wrote that it was the abundance of foods and reduced physical activity that posed the greatest problem.
“It’s a combination of things,” said Koski. “We have more foods available. You can spend less. We spend less of our income on foods than we did, say, 20 years ago.”
Although we spend less for our foods, it isn’t always the good stuff that gets into our body.
The most important part of nutrition, emphasized Pauline Weissman, a board certified nutritional specialist, is to eat “appropriate foods.”
In other words, Weissman said, whole foods that are in their “natural state” and aren’t out of a box or package.
Weissman puts the blame on processed foods, and she’s not alone.
“They thought that soda was the bad guy, but it’s actually the processed foods,” said Koski, who explained that people are eating more things like cakes, cookies, pies and chips than in years past.
Processed foods such as refined, simple carbohydrates are easier to break down and be absorbed into the blood stream, according to Weissman. So consumption of processed foods accounts for a spike and ultimate crash in blood sugar, she said, leading to a craving for more sweets.
But complex carbohydrates such as whole grains, are much harder to be processed and allow a slower increase in blood sugar and less of a desire for more, according to Weissman.
A study this year showed that when men ate a meal containing a lot of processed food, especially containing corn syrup, it resulted in increased hunger and stimulation to the part of the brain that triggers cravings, according to a published report in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
While most of the obesity research points towards nutrition, there have been advances that show the biological reasons behind fat regulation and storage within human body.
According to the International Journal of Obesity, the most significant progress concerning obesity is in the study of two kinds of fat cells in the body, brown and white. Brown fat, which is associated with low body weight, is good. The research showed an artificial way to grow new brown fat cells from precursor white fat cells that haven’t yet developed.
But the nutritionists aren’t counting on this discovery to help people, at least right away.
“There’s no simple answer,” said Koski.
Weissman said obesity is a “lifestyle disease.”
Taking into account that obesity is a medical and societal problem, changing our perspective on obese people doesn’t contribute toward solving it.
While there may be more acceptance of overweight or bigger people in our society, as Koski pointed out it may be “also because we have gotten heavier.”
As Eknoyan wrote, the stigma of being obese began to emerge during the later part of the 19th century. Before that, Western literature and art correlated a heavy-set person with the characteristics of affluence, power and beauty.
Breakthroughs in science may give us an insight into the workings of the human body, though the pathway of nutrition provides an easier and longer-lasting result.
Education about foods and nutrition is important in retraining our bodies to eat in a more healthy and effective way.