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Being obese may wipe out 4 years from your life

A new and sobering report on obesity is just hot off the press. The main take home message is that obesity is bad news for anyone and everyone. The obese are unwittingly limiting their longevity by up to four years. If that’s not reason enough for you to watch your weight, then you have a far bigger problem once you add up all other negative health effects of obesity.

Obesity is a global problem. Estimates suggest that nearly one in five individuals were obese 10 years ago. That figure has steadily risen to about one in four, adding up to about 50 million more obese people. The figures are worse in wealthy countries, but developing countries are catching up rapidly. And the whole spectrum of ages are affected, spanning from adults to children. It is an epidemic that has triggered the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) to issue recommendations on how to contain the menace.

But what brings on obesity? It’s a combination of factors that include unhealthy diets and sedentary lifestyles. About a third of people don’t do enough physical activities as advised by the WHO. And 40% don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables either. This translates into higher rates of killer diseases like diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer. The knock-on effects aren’t just individual, there are global effects on world economics and overall public health status.

Obviously governments, global institutions and the healthcare industry can do a lot more to tame the obesity epidemic. Policies that regulate advertising, food and beverage labelling, school programs and workplace wellness schemes can all play a role. Health workers can be more proactive with promoting, and even prescribing physical activities. This can be coupled with nutritional counselling in order to yield maximum gains on obesity prevention.

But you also have an individual role to play. If your current weight is within normal range, all you need is to maintain whatever you are doing and stay within a healthy weight. If you are overweight or obese, then you must take immediate steps to reverse the situation. Freely available apps can quickly calculate your healthy weight range, and give you a target weight to aim for. Watch your eating habits, and get rid of or cut down all those calorie-laden foods. Eat more plant based foods, fruits and vegetables. Avoid processed foods and sugar-laden beverages.

Build some physical activities into your daily routine. Nothing fancy, a walk will do, or some household chores. Don’t sit on your desk all day in the office, look for a reason to stand up and walk about every so often. Loop in your family and friends in weight reduction initiatives, you will all accrue gains in better longterm health and longevity.

Dr Alfred Murage is a Consultant Gynecologist and Fertility

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