Obesity: Serial Killer of the 21st Century

 


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Look around and you can’t help but notice the problem – 1 out of every 3 Americans is carrying around extra weight. Weight that puts them at risk for diabetes, heart disease, cancer, hypertension, shortened life span, stroke, and high cholesterol just to name a few. Okay, so you know there is a problem now how do you solve it or better yet where do you begin? The first step any individual with a weight problem should see their physician for a full evaluation and discussion regarding safe weight loss goals and plan of action.

There will be many items that your physician will discuss with you including your current medical problems and what impact they will have on your goal of weight loss. You will learn what your body mass index is which is your weight in kilograms divided by your height in meters squared. This gives a rough estimate of obesity severity. The higher the number the higher your risk for health problems down the road. A BMI between 25-30 is considered overweight and beyond 30 is obese. Your doctor will also discuss safe weight loss goals. You should not lose more than 2-3 pounds per week or 8-10 pounds per month. Keep in mind the long-term goal of keeping the weight off. You will notice that men tend to lose weight more quickly than women because they have more muscle mass which burns fat more quickly.

Now to the difficult part, what “diet” do you use? There is no simple answer here except to remember your weight is like a bank account the more you put in (food) the more interest (fat) you are going to generate. Your goal should be use more than you are consuming. There are literally thousands of diets to follow but I would suggest sticking to the basics. The less processed the food the better it is for you. Green beans are good for you but less so when they come from a can with all the additives. Stick to the whole foods (raw fruits and vegetables), avoid fried meats (especially red meat), and keep sweets to the bare minimum. Remember all things in moderation will increase your likelihood of success. You may want to do some research on what is considered your target calorie intake for your gender, height and current weight. Your physician should be able to help you find these resources.

You must understand that it will be very difficult to lose weight with dieting alone. Any good weight loss program will incorporate a good diet and an exercise program appropriate for your current health status. I almost always recommend that my patients begin with a walking program. I don’t care if it is only 5 minutes a day to start, as long as they start. The human body has an amazing ability to adapt quickly and this will be evident as walking becomes easier with time. The pace should be fast enough that you are a bit breathless while in a conversation. You should need to stop and take a breath after a sentence or two. Two more very important components to an exercise program is stretching and resistance training. Stretching should be done after a warm-up and during the cool-down phase. Resistance training should be done 2-3 times per week with a 24 hour resting period between workouts for each muscle group.

There are also weight loss medications and surgery, which should be considered a last resort after all conservative measures have failed. Again these are all only suggestions and you should consult with your physician before beginning any weight loss or exercise program.

Laurie Marbas is a Family Medicine physician currently serving in the United States Air Force. Her website is http://www.justaskdoc.com

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