Is Obesity Really a Problem?

“Adolescent obesity is like an epidemic.”​—S. K. Wangnoo, senior consultant endocrinologist, Indraprastha Apollo Hospital, Delhi, India.

AS THE above comment shows, many middle-class Indian families have changed to a life-style that is resulting in teenage obesity. This epidemic has become a pandemic that is spreading in many countries as more people exercise less and become addicted to junk food. A consultant in adolescent medicine stated: “The next generation [in Britain] will be . . . the most obese in the history of mankind.” The Guardian Weekly reported: “Obesity was once mainly an adult problem. Now Britain has a young generation whose eating habits and sedentary culture is leading them towards problems first seen in the US. Long-term obesity will predispose them to illnesses such as diabetes to heart disease and cancer.”

The writers of the book Food Fight state: “Overconsumption has replaced malnutrition as the world’s top food problem.” Don Peck, writing in The Atlantic Monthly, states: “Some nine million Americans are now ‘morbidly obese,’ meaning roughly a hundred pounds [45 kg] or more overweight.” Weight-related conditions lead to some 300,000 premature deaths a year in that nation, “more than anything else except smoking.” Peck concluded: “Obesity may soon surpass both hunger and infectious disease as the world’s most pressing public-health problem.” Therefore, who can afford to ignore the threat of obesity? Dr. Walter C. Willett writes in the book Eat, Drink, and Be Healthy that “next to whether you smoke, the number that stares up at you from the bathroom scale is the most important measure of your future health.” The key word here is future health.

How Do You Define Obesity?

When is a person considered obese and not just somewhat overweight? The Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, U.S.A., states: “In simplest terms, obesity is being seriously overweight because of excess body fat.” But how do you determine what overweight is for each person? Height-weight tables can give an approximate guideline as to whether one is simply overweight or has passed into the obese stage. (See the table on page 5.) However, these don’t account for differences in body composition. The Mayo Clinic says: “Body fat, instead of weight, is a better predictor of health.” For example, an athlete is likely to have more weight because of muscle mass or large bone structure. What are the basic causes of overweight or obesity? The following article will discuss that question.