Obesity: a Critical Health Problem

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents in the past 30 years. More than one-third of adults and 17 percent of youth in the United States were obese in 2011-2014. The prevalence of obesity is even higher among non-Hispanic black and Hispanics as compared to other racial groups.

Childhood and adolescent obesity is one of the most pressing current public health concerns. Obesity in children and adolescents is associated with a variety of adverse health conditions, such as Type 2 diabetes, obstructive sleep apnea, metabolic syndrome, and asthma.

Adolescence is emphasized as a critical time period in development. Obesity with onset in adolescence is more likely to persist into or exert its health effects in adulthood.

What does this all mean? I just threw a bunch of statistics out there, but to break it down for you, the most vulnerable population (i.e. children) are suffering from something that we once considered an adult problem.

This is a pressing issue because not only does obesity result in image problems, is a major health problem. It makes us sick, and when I mean sick, very sick. Obesity (and insulin resistance) results in systemic inflammation throughout the body, affecting multiple organs. It’s not just an adult problem anymore. This is a problem for children, youth, and the future of this nation, the ones we should care for and protect.

Why and how does obesity make us sick? Obesity is associated with a chronic inflammatory state and portends the development of related metabolic diseases impacting nearly every organ system within the body (as I mentioned above).  Previous studies have shown that fat cells (specifically fat associated in the abdominal area called visceral fat) promote systemic inflammation by secreting systemic mediators (too much inflammation is bad!). These mediators are secreted into the circulation (into blood) and can indirectly and directly affect organs (such as your heart, lungs, liver, etc.). This increases the risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease (heart attacks, strokes, atherosclerosis), metabolic syndrome, asthma, and several forms of cancer. In addition, obesity increases fibrosis in organs. Fibrosis can disrupt normal organ function and too much fibrosis results in disease such as non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) and asthma.

Laymen’s terms: Obesity causes too much “bad” fat. This “bad” fat sends “bad” messages throughout your body resulting in inflammation. Your heart sees these bad messages, your liver, your lungs, etc. and as a result they get sick, therefore you get sick.

What does this mean?

As I mentioned earlier, obesity is not only a major public health epidemic affecting adults, it is increasingly affecting our children too. And with earlier obesity and related inflammation, chronic disease starts developing earlier. This will not only lead to more disease, but also more disability.

One method of prevention is through food. We already are delving into why food is so important for inflammation, as you see in Chris’s posts on sugar and my post on oils. In future posts I will explain more depth into the mechanisms of how obesity is inflammatory and why this matters for overall health.

About the Author

Sarah Ferrante, Ph.D.

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