Obesity is a major public health threat in developing and developed countries as evidenced by statistics that show that over 300 million people suffer from obesity all over the world, this is approximately the population of ten medium-sized countries. Moreover, 1.7 billion other people around the globe are exposed to risk factors that predispose them to being overweight and of these, 1.1 million are already overweight and 300 million are obese as stated earlier (Lener & Lerner, 2006). The incidence of obesity has tripled in the last 20 years in developing countries and increased by 75% since 1980. Furthermore, it is estimated that an increase in BMI is responsible for over 2 million deaths every year and this number is expected to double by the year 2030.
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Obesity is a chronic disease that occurs from an interplay of genetic and environmental factors whose aetiology has not been fully understood. But from a biological point of view, it is posited to occur due to the presence of more fat, in the body, than is required to sustain bodily functions. This excess fat is stored in the body depending on its necessity for body functions. Essential fat, which is necessary in order to sustain life is stored in the breasts and hips for women, the bone marrow, lung, heart, liver and spleen muscles. Excess dietary fat that is not essential for body functions is stored in the subcutaneous tissue, and it is this fat that constitutes the major determinant for obesity. In a healthy young adult, storage fat should constitute 15-25% of the total body weight with specific reference ranges in terms of gender being 15-20% for males and 20-25% for women.
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Obesity occurs in various forms depending on the area where fat has accumulated in the body, with Android type obesity being characterized by significant fat accumulation in the region of the upper torso and abdomen and being prevalent within the male demographic while regional obesity is characterized by fat accumulation in the thighs and hips and is more prevalent among women. This classification is important since it determines the severity of the associated health risks with central/android type obesity beings associated with greater risk for developing hypertension, coronary heart disease, diabetes mellitus (II) and suffering from sudden death (Lanas & Fernado, 2016). The severity of obesity can be measured through a variety of mechanisms but the most common methods utilize; the calculations obtained from the division of body weight with the second power of height (BMI) to measure fat accumulation and skin fold measurements (waist circumference, waist to hip ratio) to measure fat distribution.
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The development of obesity has been linked to several negative implications in terms of health and the quality of life that individuals who suffer from it can expect to achieve. In this section, this paper will focus on the consequences of obesity on the health of individuals. Obesity is positively associated with the incidence of type II diabetes mellitus with studies showing that 75-80% of people who suffer from this type of diabetes are obese. The increased risk of developing diabetes from obesity has a direct correlation with increasing BMI and decreased metabolic control. Obesity is also linked to the development of coronary heart disease due to the prevailing clinical and biochemical disorders associated with the development of obesity such as hypertension and dyslipidemia and the influence of these disorders on the development of coronary heart disease. Moreover, the accumulation of fat in the cardiac cavities, which is typical in obese individuals, leads to an increase in the rate of heart work and demand for myocardial adaptation in to this increased demand that results in cardiac hypertrophy due to fatigue and eventually, results in heart failure (Behn & Ur, 2006). Additionally, there appears to be a positive association between early-onset obesity and incidence of cardiovascular disease with individuals who develop obesity at an early age being more likely to suffer the coronary complications associated with obesity than those who develop it later in life. Moreover, individuals with android type obesity also have an increased risk of developing coronary heart disease than individuals with regional obesity.
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Obesity has also been found to lead to the development of hypertension and atherosclerosis. The accumulation of fat in the arterial walls that occurs with the progression in weight gain leads to the development of atheromatous plaques in the walls of the arteries which harden and narrow these arteries and limit the flow of oxygen to the tissues and this can lead to the occurrence of ischemic stroke, heart attack and even death. The risk for hypertension is exemplified by the supposition that a 10% increase in body weight leads to an increase in systolic blood pressure and diastolic blood pressure by 6mmHg and 4mmHg respectively and a 1% reduction in body weight leads to a reduction in systolic and diastolic blood pressure by 1mmHg and 2mmHg respectively. This increase is further exacerbated in individuals who have a genetic predisposition to developing hypertension and individuals who develop obesity as they progress in age.
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Obesity has also been found to have a positive correlation with the occurrence of the metabolic syndrome in individuals with most obese individuals having a metabolic profile that shows an increased level of triglycerides and low-density lipoproteins (LDL) and a reduced level of High-density lipoproteins (HDL). These factors are associated with the effects of the metabolic syndrome that lead to increased insulin resistance (in type II diabetes) leading to hyperglycemia, reduction in the activity of muscle lipoprotein lipase leading to insufficient breakdown of triglycerides in diet and a reduction in the effectiveness of LDL receptor which leads to insufficient lipoprotein metabolism (Guo & Garvey, 2016). Moreover, obesity is also positively associated with the occurrence of endocrine disorders that lead to the occurrence of hormone-related cancers and other hormone-related disorders. For instance, obese women experience constant amenorrhea and are expected to experience menarche at an earlier age than women with normal body weight while obese men experience reduced levels of testosterone and increased levels of plasma cortisol which leads to reduced glucocorticoid levels. Obese men and women are also at risk of the mortality that results from prostate and colon cancer (males) and endometrium, cervical and breast cancer.
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Obese individuals also have to battle with the ever frequent inconvenience that occurs from the obesity hypoventilation syndrome which leads to debilitating breathing dysfunction due to hypoventilation of lung cells especially at night (sleep apnea). This dysfunction mostly affects these individuals during the REM phase of sleep when the upper respiratory tract is likely to get blocked and it necessitates having to wake up multiple times during the night to breathe properly. This can lead to chronic insomnia and the day sleepiness often observed in obese individuals. Despite this inconvenience, breathing dysfunctions can result in cardiac arrhythmia and heart failure which could lead to death.
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The advantages of being an obese individual have not been well documented due to the incredible health risks having this disease poses and the irresponsibility that would occur from encouraging people to become obese through these kinds of research-based incentives. However, a few studies have attempted to turn existing norms about obesity on their head and show the pros of obesity. Such research posits that obesity alleviates the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis due to the lowered levels of adiponectin associated with increased BMI whose inflammatory action on arthritis is thus reduced. Moreover, further research has gone ahead to show that obesity contributes to a more regulated immune system that does not overcompensate and cause collateral damage within the body due to the omentum around body organs whose cells interact directly with the cells of the immune system and regulate their responses. Additionally, mesenchymal stem cells present in the abdominal fat of obese individuals, repair tissue almost immediately after damage occurs and the fat itself acts as a shock absorber and protects individuals from mechanical injury. More research has also found that obese individuals are 25% less likely to develop dementia than individuals with normal weight levels. Although it stands to reason that these facts may not be very helpful to obese individuals since very few obese individuals make it to the age of onset of dementia in the first place (Quizilbash et al 2012).
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From this discussion, it can be posited that the cons of obesity far outweigh its advantages and individuals who suffer from this disease should incorporate weight management strategies to their daily routines in order to enjoy the benefits that result from healthy body weight.