Obesity and its devastating impact on health

Published On: 18. June 2023.
13.2 min read

Most citizens of Zagreb would say that, at first glance, Croats are a healthy nation – the majority are aware of the importance of a balanced diet and exercise, are active and more or less relatively slim. However, our metropolis is not a true reflection of the real state of affairs, but a small isolated bubble that is an exception that definitely does not confirm the rule – and that rule is that Croats have long been among the fattest nations in Europe. In fact, we are no longer in the first five or the first three ‘honourable’ places, we are now the absolute champions of the thickness of EU member states and this is something that should worry us all very, very much. Today we are talking about why being overweight is a wake-up call, and obesity is a life-threatening scourge of our society – which is spreading more and more, and we seem to ignore it completely.

Croats – the fattest nation in Europe

According to the latest statistics, Croatia is in first place among the fattest nations in Europe, and the population of children is in unenviable fifth place on the same not very flattering list. Namely, as many as 65% of adults are overweight and obese, as are 35% of children, and these are the data presented at this year’s Obesity Day, in March.

Such data are definitely devastating and show that as a nation we are constantly at a very high risk of contracting chronic diseases, especially cardiovascular diseases. Currently, our country allocates around 2.7 percent of its GDP, i.e. 1.7 billion euros, for the treatment of overweight and obese patients. Costs are rising every year, just like the number of people with a diagnosis coded as E66 – obesity.

As we know, from a medical point of view, being overweight is a disease like any other, but it is also associated with numerous stigmas and prejudices, and until recently it was considered only a major aesthetic problem – while now it is often desired in extreme cases. However, I plan to write about the problems of the #bodypositivity movement and obesity in one of the upcoming blogs, because first we need to deal with the problem of the impact of excess weight on our body, that is, the health problems caused by obesity.

Fat as a ‘silent’ killer

To begin with, it should be clarified once and for all – being overweight is not (exclusively) an aesthetic problem, as aesthetics and understandings of beauty vary from period to period. Once fatness was considered desirable because it symbolized abundance and wealth, then it was undesirable, and today it has reached its extremes and is once again accepted as a beauty standard to which some even aspire – despite numerous health evidences that deliberate weight gain is extremely harmful to the human body.

It is important to say that obesity is caused by many factors, from lack of exercise to excessive consumption of unhealthy food, genetic predispositions and even emotional disorders and hormone imbalances. Today it is easier than ever to gain weight because food is all around us. It has never been more available and more caloric in history. The biggest problem is that we eat highly processed food, often consume hidden sugars and salts, without even realizing it, and overall we move less and less. Cars, a sedentary lifestyle, working in an office and less and less activity contribute to weight gain, and the increased exposure to stress in the modern world is another key factor that contributes to the problem.

To put it simply, obesity is a disease that potentially attacks all those who have bad eating habits and are not very active. Insufficient movement and obesity form a vicious circle. Too little movement contributes to weight gain, and obesity makes it difficult to move.

Today, this problem has grown to such proportions that the World Health Organization has decided to treat obesity as a global epidemic, because this diagnosis causes long-term diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and even cancer. A special problem is obesity among children, who, according to statistics, are on average bigger and fatter with each new measurement and research. I believe that you yourself have noticed that the clothes for today’s kids are bigger than they were for us, ready-made numbers are different and something that was a rarity for me in my younger days (a fatter student in the classroom) is now a relatively common occurrence. I don’t really know how it was for you, but in my elementary and high school, the class consisted of about 30 of us, and there were maybe only two fatter students. There were no obese ones. Now that’s a plague! Quite worrying.

The idea that children should be fed bread, butter and jam has long been out of date, and maybe it was important 100 years ago when children still died easily at a young age, but today this is definitely not the case – today we have the opposite situation. Children are getting sick earlier and earlier because of their fatness and unregulated diet, as well as because they don’t exercise enough.

Let’s remember that fat cells multiply during two periods of growth and development: early youth and adolescence. Excessive eating during these periods increases their number, which is also genetically determined. Some are already born with an excess of these cells. Of course, the influence of parents also plays a role: if the parent of a three-year-old child is obese, the child (even if thin) has a 30% chance of becoming obese one day. After adolescence, the mass of fat cells increases, not their number, and therefore weight loss in adulthood reduces the size of fat cells, not their number, so losing weight is much more difficult for adults who were fat in childhood, when the cells multiplied – which is just one more reason why the statistics of obese adults are increasing year by year. Obese children often struggle with their excess weight for life and are a very high-risk group for developing high blood pressure, arterial and heart diseases, and liver damage when they grow up. Fat children become fat teenagers and fat adults – and thus not only burden their organism and themselves, but also harm future generations and society in general.

Namely, obesity is the number 1 ‘silent killer’ today. In the following, we will explain exactly what this means and on which systems of the human body fat has a truly disastrous effect.

How dangerous is obesity?

In general, studies have shown that the lowest risk of heart disease, diabetes and some types of cancer exists in people with a body mass index (BMI) of 21-25. Although the body mass index is not a sufficient indicator of the general state of the organism, it can serve as a rough guideline regarding whether we are underweight or overweight. What is clear from all measurements is that people who have a BMI greater than 30 belong to an extremely risky group for developing a whole series of serious diseases.

Obesity directly causes inflammatory conditions in the body at the cellular level, which become so severe that they cause severe chronic inflammation in certain systems of the body and thus lead to serious forms of illness.

  • Diseases of the heart, blood vessels and diabetes – Obesity is a risk factor for heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and stroke. The most problematic is the so-called VISCERAL FAT. It is fat concentrated in the abdominal area, which is located around the organs and is an inflammatory bomb. Fat around the abdomen and in the upper parts of the body represents a greater health risk than fatty tissue accumulated on the thighs and loins, and studies show that obesity is the first cause and risk factor of elevated blood pressure, or hypertension. Also, this leads to the risk of enlargement of the left heart ventricle and thus a heart attack. High blood pressure weakens the work of the kidneys. We must not forget about the problem of type 2 diabetes, one of the most common diseases in obese people. It has also become clear through medical research that obesity is a huge risk factor for esophageal cancer, and obese women have a 3 times higher chance of developing uterine and gall bladder cancer compared to women of a healthy weight.
  • Reproductive and hormonal problems – Although obesity is mostly associated with chronic diseases of the cardiovascular system, it causes problems in a whole range of systems of our body, including reproduction. Namely, research shows that women who gain excess weight after the age of 18 have a greater risk of later developing uterine cancer. It is thus clear that abnormal amounts of body fat, 10-15% too high or too low, can contribute to infertility in women. In the same way, the level of testosterone and fertility decreases in obese men, and there are a number of health risks for obese pregnant women – increased blood pressure, diabetes in pregnancy, urinary tract infections, thrombosis, prolonged labor, a higher rate of fetal death in the later stages of pregnancy and Caesarean section. That obesity is not a problem that only affects the body of the parents is also proven by the fact that newborns of obese mothers have a higher chance of a developmental defect that affects the brain or spine.
  • Hypoxia – Another danger that obese people have to face is hypoxia, that is, a state of the body in which there is not enough oxygen to meet all bodily functions and needs. Due to hypoxia, obese people have problems with breathing, lower mobility and muscle endurance, and their lung capacity is sometimes reduced by up to 30 percent compared to a person of healthy weight.
  • Apnea and sleep disorders – Studies show that obese people have difficulty sleeping during the night and often have apnea, a condition in which the upper palate relaxes and descends during sleep, temporarily blocking the passage of air – which leads to cessation of breathing and shortness of breath and short suffocation. Apnea is associated with a higher risk of cardiac arrhythmias, stroke and left heart failure, and the first symptom is severe and loud snoring in sleep. Many are not even aware of this condition, but it is life-threatening and greatly impairs the quality of life.

How to treat obesity?

It is important to say that obesity as a disease is treated surgically, as well as with specially created drugs to reduce appetite, but it is necessary to approach the problem multidisciplinary and to include psychotherapy in the treatment and the creation of new, healthier lifestyle habits that will allow a person to get out of the vicious circle of excessive food consumption and too little movement. Due to the fact that it requires the supervision of several specialists, the treatment of obesity is extremely complex and proves how serious and really difficult this condition is for any person. Zbog toga što zahtijeva nadzor više polja stručnjaka liječenje pretilosti iznimno je kompleksno te dokazuje koliko je ovo stanje ozbiljno i zaista teško za bilo koju osobu.

That’s why I’m especially allergic to statements like: ‘So he should close his mouth and stop eating!’ or ‘You don’t get fat from air!’… Most obese people are not obese because it’s fun for them and they feel great. It is often about people who feed on trauma, emotionally negative states, depression, sadness, loneliness… And that’s exactly why telling someone to stop eating, making them do intensive training, putting them on restrictive regimes – is not a solution. At least not the one that leads to a long-term and sustainable result of fat loss with emotionally and psychologically maintained stability. Namely, losing weight is a process, not only for the person who is losing weight, but also for their community, which must help them in this process.

When working with clients who need to lose excess weight, I always emphasize the same thing, which is that weight loss must be gradual (ideally up to 0.5 kg per week). Rapid weight loss most often leads to a ‘yo-yo’ effect, and the best example of this is fast diets before summer when individuals lose more weight in just two weeks. This is dangerous for health in the long run and I regret that even today as a society we popularize detoxes, fast diets and summer body plans for the sake of profit.

It is ideal to lose weight by making substitutions in your existing lifestyle and diet and by increasing the daily amount of movement. It is definitely necessary to increase the protein intake (a blog about this soon) so that the level of satiety is satisfactory, and the desire for fast food rich in hidden sugars is reduced. It is also important to increase the intake of fiber because it also contributes to satiety and supports weight loss. The most important thing is the caloric deficit, but as I do not support counting calories and restrictive behavior that often leads to a disturbed relationship with food, I suggest that you always consult with someone about your specific case, and not to Google the new hit diet and decide on the one that is currently trending. That’s why I am here as well as other nutritionists. Don’t hesitate to ask for help.

I sincerely hope for a change in the mindset of this society and thus the prevention of the cardinal diseases that obesity brings. This is possible only and only with the help of your own community, and I believe that the first step is to say clearly and loudly that increased thickness and obesity is a DISEASE despite the desire to be nice and politically correct. This is not defined by me or by a random passer-by who told you that you have a big ass, but by a doctor through your findings and of course the body composition analysis measurement data through which you can specifically obtain analyzes of the percentage of fat mass (the most dangerous already mentioned visceral).

In Zagreb, you can take measurements of this type at the Sports Counseling Center of Moja Farmacia, which I highly recommend, because the detection of increased fat mass is the first step on the way to a better tomorrow. A path that will lead you to have more energy, to sleep better, to be in a better mood, to feel and look fantastic.

You often ask me how it is that I’m always in a good mood and so active and fit… and I’ll tell you again – it’s because I take care of the quality of my sleep, diet and exercise. It is a formula not only for good mood and health, but also for longevity and a better quality of life.

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2024-03-05T06:45:36+01:0018. June 2023.|

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