Wake someone and question him/her on the reasons behind the obesity epidemic and pat comes the reply-increased intake of calorie-rich foods and decreased performance of physical activity. There is no denial on their dominance in weight gain problems, but one must also comply with other factors that could play an important part in changing directions of the obesity epidemic.
Beyond The ‘Big Two’
Food marketing practices and decreased physical activity are regarded as the ‘big two’ factors in defining obesity. The big two list includes factors such as increased portion sizes, inexpensive junk food, increased availability of vending machines that sell processed foods and decreased importance given to physical education in school, but the list is more exhaustive than this. There is a list of certain other factors whose effects make us doubt the big two causes as the only sources of obesity.
Dining Out: Every street has got its own café and a restaurant; every city offers a plethora of different food choices with innumerable cuisines and every country boasts of its gourmet food business that’s reaping greater benefits than ever. The portion sizes served at restaurants are enormous where a plateful of food can satisfy two souls’ hunger needs and the oils/butter used are explicitly on the higher side that can cause weight gain in the short run. Still, an analysis showed that individuals who ate 200-300 kcal more during restaurant meals compensate for this increased intake by eating less during other meals. This makes the net increase associated with energy intake extremely small.
Physical Education: There are some who argue that lack of insistence on physical education is a major contributor to obesity. But there does exist evidence showing increased participation of children in physical activity classes greater than before. Irrespective of the PE classes or participation there are proofs that such classes have no impact on obesity levels.
Sidewalks: Early days gave importance to footpaths and walkers but nowadays we see motorists and cyclists using the footpaths more than the pedestrians. There have been much debates that lack of proper footpaths has been an importance cause for rise in obesity rates, but studies have proved that rates of physical activity were neither high nor rates of obesity low in countries that boasted of well-maintained sidewalks and recreational facilities.
High-fructose corn syrup consumption (HFCS): HFCS consumption has increased in the last couple of decades and may people believe this to have increased obesity rates. But a recent research paper presented showed that HFCS and sucrose had similar properties and the effect of HFCS on obesity was no greater than that of sucrose.
Vending Machines: There have been many complaints against the availability of vending machines in schools for their negative impact on obesity and school policies too have been changed to reflect this view. But there is no authentic evidence indicating that vending machines contribute to obesity problems greatly.
Indeed, fast food availability has increased rapidly, portion sizes have become larger and calorie intake greater, but these are not the only causes for obesity and physical activity is the main reason for expanding waistlines. But such singling out of reasons are often interfered by other components that can be equally blamed.
Other Factors that Remain Unexplored
Infection & Obesity: Ten different microbes are blamed for causing obesity in experimental models but their contribution of infections in humans has not been probed into. The gut flora’s composition too enhances adiposity. While experiments are only in the beginning stage the ability of microbes and viruses to alter metabolism may have greater implications on obesity.
Epigenetics & Obesity: Genetic variations affect an individual’s susceptibility to obesity; genetic variations are affected by the surrounding environment and a steady increase in such factors are in fact suppressing the establishments of epigenetic mechanisms that contribute to body weight regulations. Environmental factors during development can cause alterations in genes and it is highly possible that environmental influences on gene regulation can increase the risk of obesity.
Maternal age & Obesity: With more women being work-oriented they enter into marital bliss during later part of the years and bearing children takes an even greater time. The increase in the mean age of first-time mothers has augmented the impact of maternal age on obesity. There are strong evidences linking maternal age with obesity, but age alone doesn’t exist as a standalone factor in impacting obesity.
Reproductive fitness & Obesity: Reproductive fitness is the individual’s or population’s tendency (not necessarily capacity) to reproduce and pass on their DNA. The ability to produce offspring is the most important and easily observed aspect of a population’s reproductive fitness. Studies show that individuals carrying genes favorable to obesity are reproducing at a greater rate than non-carriers which increases the rate of obesity in that country.
Sleep debt & obesity: There are various studies that have been insisting on the importance of sleep on avoiding obesity and there are other evidences too suggesting that appetite and energy homeostasis may be affected by sleep duration. Researchers even suggest that increased sleep can be considered as a promising anti-obesity treatment. Sleeping is integral to living and for a list of sleep-related techniques that can help you enjoy a peaceful sleep during the night please visit the website www.firsteatright.com.
Endocrine disrupters & obesity: Endocrine disrupter chemicals (EDCs) are profusely present in the environment and there are higher chances of them increasing in levels in humans too. Such exposure has been doubted to raise chances of obesity in humans as there are many possibilities of interfering with estrogen and androgen signaling.
Pharmaceutical Iatrogenesis & Obesity: Many medications have been blamed to have caused obesity as a side effect and such a weight gain can have debilitating side effects such as increased risk of hypertension, type 2 diabetes, hyperlipidemia and poor medication compliance.
Ambient temperature & obesity: The thermal environment affects both energy expenditure and energy intake to maintain homeostasis and a thermal neutral zone (TNZ) is defined as a range of temperatures across which energy expenditure is not allocated towards maintaining a constant body temperature. Climate control helps individuals spend more time in the TNZ which result in positive energy balance and this manifests as weight gain. In general, people consume less food in a hot environment and even studies show that people go for lower-calorie items during summer. Exposure to high temperatures increases metabolic rate.
All the above factors clearly show that there are quite many other factors that exist outside the big two and some of these factors have easy interventions that can prevent obesity. For instance, obesity due to sleep debt can be prevented by sleeping well and analyzing whether it has effects on weight loss. While the above factors are not exhaustive it gives a clear indication to scientists and others to abstain from strongly believing the ‘big two’ to be the only ones that promote obesity.
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Dietitian & Nutritionist Dr. Nafeesa Imteyaz.