Written by Sarah Gehrke, MSN, RN
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than a third of US adults have obesity—this dietary driven disease kills more than twice as many people as infectious disease.
Obesity is a growing problem among people from all walks of life—this is especially true with children since the convenience of technology usage has limited their physical activity, and the availability of overly processed foods, such as pizza, sugary snacks, other fast food, have made children overweight.
Physicians have correlated, through recent studies, that obesity can be attributed to some diseases including diabetes, heart problems, and even some forms of cancer. These non-communicable chronic diseases will cost our global economy $47 trillion over the next 20 years.
Fortunately, preventative measures can be taken to help combat obesity, and with a few lifestyle changes, people of all ages can lose weight, be healthier, and live a longer and fuller life.
WHO: Obesity and Overweight – CDC provides key facts and global estimates about the obese and overweight population
The Global Economic Burden of Non-communicable Diseases – a snapshot of the five major non-communicable diseases and summary of the global economic impact
Provide Healthy Eating Experiences
Offering a healthy eating experience is an excellent way to help prevent obesity. Replacing white flour with whole grains and wheat bread to increase fiber intake is an improvement; however, keep in mind that two slices of whole wheat bread are shown to raise a person’s blood sugar, or blood glucose, more than two tablespoons of table sugar. Bread and packaged food, in general, may have added sugar.
Vegetable and fruit snacks provide a stable energy source. Fresh fruits instead of cake or candy bars are great alternatives for both kids and adults.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommend low-fat dairy in a healthy eating plan. A 2016 study published in Circulation may have a strong influence on policymakers, in the future, to re-evaluate their position against full-fat dairy. Researchers found that out of 3,300 people, the individuals with the highest intake of full-fat dairy products had a 46% decrease in the risk of developing type 2 diabetes compared to people with low-fat dairy.
Science debunked the idea that a diet with high-fat foods is not good for you, in fact, saturated fat is liberated from the do not consume category. Even eggs are back in. Even though the new USDA Dietary Guidelines Committee said that cholesterol is no longer restricted, the guidelines continue to propose a person consume an eating pattern low in added sugars, saturated fats, and sodium. This includes:
A variety of vegetables from all of the subgroups—dark green, red and orange, legumes (beans and peas), starchy, and other
Fruits, especially whole fruits
Grains, at least half of which are whole grains
Fat-free or low-fat dairy, including milk, yogurt, cheese, and/or fortified soy beverages
A variety of protein foods, including seafood, lean meats and poultry, eggs, legumes (beans and peas), and nuts, seeds, and soy products
A healthy eating pattern limits:
Saturated fats and trans fats, added sugars, and sodium
Water or a sparkling mineral water without added sugar instead of soda can make a positive impact on weight and overall health.
With a few simple, healthy eating alternatives, people can lose weight and feel better about themselves. Diets rich in fiber and vitamins can also reduce the risk of heart disease.
Glycaemic Index Tables – compilation of reliable tables of the glycaemic load associated with the consumption of different foods
Dairy Fat and Risk of Diabetes Mellitus – an interesting perspective on dairy consumption and the potential health effects of dairy fat
The Guidelines – an executive summary of the dietary guidelines from the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion
Obesity Basics – definition and overview of obesity risk factors and complications
Choose My Plate – answers to your questions about the 2015–2020 dietary guidelines
Choose My Plate (Multiple Languages) – answers to your questions about the 2015–2020 dietary guidelines in multiple languages
Teach Healthy Eating Habits
Most people who are at their proper weight have a lower risk for diabetes and numerous other health problems. Teaching children healthy habits increases the likelihood that they will be an appropriate weight when they get older.
Acquiring a healthy diet can include encouraging kids to eat fruits instead of candy, limiting sodas, and ingesting whole foods. Teaching people healthy eating habits can be fun! Promoting new things like seafood or different vegetables can send someone on a food adventure that will keep them on the right track for their whole life.
Opportunities to teach and improve food choices exist throughout the day and in varied settings. If small shifts made over time, it can add up to real improvements in long-term eating patterns.
Fast Food Alternatives – how to make careful menu choices
Tips for Healthy Eating On the Go or at Home – tip sheets for eating healthy when dining out and shopping
Nutritional Songs – songs for healthy eating habits
Win Over Picky Eaters – tips to keep in mind when your child or other picky eater only wants to eat French fries or pizza for all meals
Healthy Eating Lesson Plan – an empowering lesson plan for teaching students healthy eating choices (adaptable for grades K–5)
Teaching Veterans Healthy Food Choices – this Healthy Teaching Kitchen YouTube channel aims to improve the health of veterans and their families
Living the Total Body Diet Lifestyle – a total body diet designed from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics to get people into a wellness state of mind
Fight Belly Fat Foods – a general overview of obesity in American and tips on foods that help with fighting belly fat
Promote Physical Activity
Getting kids or even sedentary adults to become active can be a challenge. However, some things can be done to help promote physical activity.
Walking groups with friends or co-workers are a great way to encourage each other, hold each other accountable, and get people to stay active. Nature walks are also a wonderful way to get outdoors, be active and enjoy the weather.
Taking the stairs at work instead of the elevator and parking your car further away from shopping centres can add up to your health and wellness over time.
You can create fun, loving connections by adding movement into your daily routine—the whole family will benefit. Most early childhood interactions involve movement. Let’s face it; our world is based on movement.
Boosting activity needs taught and encouraged, in the same way awareness does. Keep in mind children learn their behaviours from adults.
Here are some ideas to choose from that inspire activity:
Limit screen time, such as video games, TV, and other electronic devices.
Make activity cards and use them as a game—paste a picture of physical activity on one side of the card. Then, the child, or adult, chooses the card and demonstrates the movement.
Teach posture alignment and silly stretches using helium balloons. Clip the balloon on the back of everyone’s shirt as a gentle reminder to sit up straight during dinner. Or, encourage a fun activity of arm stretching by tying balloons to each wrist.
Read or write a short story that promotes activity as a part of the story.
You do not have to be a full-time athlete to take part in physical activity. Just a few simple changes can make a difference in one’s overall health, and you might even lose a few unflattering pounds in the process.
Physical Activity for Everyone – the CDC explains the benefits of boosting physical activity
Helping Kids be Physically Active – eleven ways to encourage your child to be physically active
Active Resources – the US Department of Health and Human Services provide different ways to be physically active
Staying Active – Harvard School of Public Health reviews why physical activity is just as important as eating nutritious foods
Adults Aged 50+ Staying Active – the CDC explains why adults older than 50 need more physical activity
Exercise Aspects of Obesity Treatment – a review of the negative impact of obesity, heart disease risk factors, and the treatment of obesity
Provide Emotional Support
Often, people who are overweight have a low sense of self-esteem. Exercising might be a little bit embarrassing or awkward.
Commonly, this is why people who are overweight stay overweight, particularly those without the help and support of family and friends. Providing some emotional support and positive reinforcement can do wonders for those trying to lose weight and live a healthier life.
A study in the Journal of Developmental and Behavioural Paediatrics examined the relationship between social support and health-related quality of life in obese youth. Overall, the study found that obese youth perceive varying levels of support. Their greatest level of social support comes from parents and close friends. Interestingly, a classmate’s support has the strongest influence on health-related quality of life, yet obese youth perceive the least amount of support from classmates.
Both children and adults can benefit from support groups—just lending an ear to those who need it are useful ways to give people who are obese some encouragement and steer them in the right direction.
Psychological Effects of Being Obese – the American Psychological Foundation examine whether people’s internalized societal attitudes about being overweight
How to be a Good Support Team – the article explains ways to help a loved one lose weight without hurting their feelings
Perceived Social Support and Quality of Life – an in-depth review of the association between social support and perceived quality of life in obese youth
Self Esteem, Insecurity, and Obesity – the Obesity Action Coalition discusses the role of self-esteem from birth and the awareness of the continuous stream of negative feedback that can shape self-confidence
Support, Wellbeing, and Energy Balance – key resources from the CDC to promote an energy balance in schools
Community Strategies – the CDC explains community efforts to reverse the obesity epidemic
The Health Effects of Obesity
People who are obese, compared to individuals with a healthy weight, are at risk for many serious health conditions, which include the following:
All-causes of death (mortality)
High blood pressure (Hypertension)
High LDL cholesterol, low HDL cholesterol, or high levels of triglycerides (Dyslipidemia)
Type 2 diabetes
Coronary heart disease
Osteoarthritis (a breakdown of cartilage and bone within a joint)
Sleep apnea and breathing problems
Some cancers (endometrial, breast, colon, kidney, gallbladder, and liver)
Low quality of life
Mental illness such as clinical depression, anxiety, and other mental disorders
Body pain and difficulty with physical functioning
Note. List of diseases and health conditions are retrieved from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.