Obesity is a medical term which describes an individual with a large weight and high percentage of body fat, with a body mass index (BMI) greater than 30. Obesity is a chronic health condition which is reaching epidemic levels and is directly associated with a number of severe diseases such as heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and cancer. In the United States, obesity has a prevalence of 39.8% in adults and 18.5% in children, leading to $147 billion medical costs which are $1,429 more per person annually than those with normal weight (“Adult Obesity Facts”). The disproportional and exponentially growing rates of obesity are caused by biological and behavioral factors but create tremendous issues for the population health and functioning of society.
Biological Health Causes
A number of biological factors, many of which are intertwined with social aspects. Genetics is often cited as a significant influence on the biological causes of obesity as genetic predisposition alters vital metabolic genes. These genes inherently determine an individual’s susceptibility to weight gain. In the correct context of excessive food intake and decreased activity, such people will be more vulnerable to obesity in the long-term.
Furthermore, genetic disorders such as the Prader-Willi Syndrome are also contributors to obesity from an early age (“What Causes Obesity & Overweight?”). Obesity is influenced by hereditary factors, with research identifying 40-70% contribution in cases (Williams et al. 365).
Physiology is the primary biological factor since weight gain is inherently dependent on energy balance. The body is more efficient to protect weight loss while enabling weight gain, distributing the energy balance towards obesity. Recent novel research has also interconnected gut microbes, otherwise known as microbiota with metabolism. Obese persons have a greater amount of Firmicute bacteria which is responsible for the metabolic breakdown of food (Williams et al. 365).
Hormones are inherently responsible for causing obesity as well as being influenced by their outcomes. Various hormones such as leptin, androgens, estrogens, insulin, and growth hormone are responsible for metabolism, appetite, and body fat. Incorrect levels of these hormones encourage a broken metabolism and accumulation of body fat. The endocrine system vital to hormone release in the system can be affected, leading to a disbalance in the biological systems (“Obesity and Hormones”).
Social determinants of obesity are considered to be a driving factor for the increasing prevalence of the diseases. The first factor is the abundance of food available in the modern world. Economic growth, improved technology, and commercialization of food has allowed for the availability of food to the regular consumer and increase the median caloric intake per person. Furthermore, dietary components have experienced change as food preparation has become industrialized and processed, leading to nutrient-poor and high-fat meals (Hruby and Hu 678).
The average calorie availability to a person in a modern developed country is upward of 3400 calories, which is 70% more needed to women and 37% by men (Knapton). In most developed and developing countries, average body weight has been increasing gradually through recent decades along with food supply.
The social state of things depends not only on food but activity as well which disturbs the energy balance. Physical activity has seen as a decrease over the decades due to the wider availability of transportation and mechanization of physical labor. Going back to the global economy and modern tendencies, the trend demonstrates more office jobs. Social and behavioral aspects regarding entertainment have shifted to screen time behind computers and televisions, with the recommended exercise guidelines and active lifestyles becoming less common from an early age.
High stress levels and pressures of society have been connected to obesity as neural networks in the brain trigger a survival impulse which causes emotional activity such as overeating rather than cognitive responses. Higher stress directly leads to higher consumption of food, as well as drinking and smoking which also contribute to obesity (Hruby & Hu 680).
Poor lifestyle choices regarding physical activity, overindulgence of food, and the use of tobacco and alcohol are synergistic with dietary, genetic, and biologic factors to create an obesity-positive environment. The various elements create a cumulative effect on people’s ability to maintain a healthy BMI and metabolic levels. Once, the disruption of health-related aspects begins, it is a continuously degrading state. Unfortunately, there is no cure for obesity, with people effectively living in a state of remission, with their biological state different from non-obese individuals of a similar age or gender.
As mentioned earlier, obesity has a profound impact on an individual’s well-being, and therefore, population health. Obesity is a chronic condition which has been directly and indirectly linked with a variety of negative factors, diseases, and causes of morbidity and mortality. The high body fat percentage affects the cardiovascular system, leading to instances of high cholesterol, hypertension, coronary disease, and stroke. Obesity disrupts the endocrine system, commonly leading to a co-morbidity of type-2 diabetes along with various sexual health disorders. Indirectly, cancer rates have been linked to obesity as well.
It leads to a low quality of life through low physical endurance and capabilities, sleep apnea (lack of rest), and body pain (“The Health Effects of Overweight and Obesity”). Finally, mental illness such as clinical depression is common in obese individuals who are either socially ostracized and mocked due to their physical appearance and inability to participate in physically challenging activities.
The numerous health challenges of obesity are, in turn, impacting other functions of society, including aspects such as the burden of finances. The United States government and the patients themselves must cover hundreds of billions in healthcare costs in obesity-related factors, including both, the direct expenses of medical care as well as indirect ones such as insurance premiums. This creates weight on the fragile economic system which is already indirectly impacted due to low productivity, missed days of work, and lower wages due to obesity-related factors and illnesses (Biener et al. 117).
Communities are becoming more isolated, requiring additional resources and investment as social aspects of obesity are creating outliers. Institutions, ranging from education to support services are inherently overwhelmed as well. The consequences of obesity, largely due to its health impacts, are far stretching and continue to negatively impact society.
It is evident that obesity is a significant health concern for the global population. It is caused by socio-behavioral trends of the modern world such as overconsumption of food and sedentary lifestyle, quality of food, as well as genetic and health factors. In turn, the effects are profound, leading to high chronic morbidity and mortality rates as well as influencing productivity and social environments. Therefore, it is vital from ethical and practical considerations to address obesity from a public health perspective.
“Adult Obesity Facts.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2018. Web.
Biener, Adam, et al. “The Impact of Obesity on Medical Care Costs and Labor Market Outcomes in the US.” Clinical Chemistry, vol. 64, no. 1, 2017, pp. 108-117. Web.
“The Health Effects of Overweight and Obesity.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2015. Web.
Hruby, Adela, and Frank B. Hu. “The Epidemiology of Obesity: A Big Picture.” Pharmacoeconomics, vol. 33, no. 7, pp. 673-689. Web.
Knapton, Sarah. “Britain’s Obesity Epidemic Fuelled By Sheer Abundance of Food.” The Telegraph. 2015. Web.
“Obesity and Hormones” Victoria State Government. 2016. Web.
“What Causes Obesity & Overweight?” US Department of Health and Human Services, N.d. Web.
Williams, Ellen P., et al. “Overweight and Obesity: Prevalence, Consequences, and Causes of a Growing Public Health Problem.” Current Obesity Reports, vol. 4, no. 3, 2017, pp. 363-370. Web.