A recent television program showed a young woman who was carrying so much body weight – over 300 kg – that she was at risk of dying. As startling as this extreme image might be, it serves as a useful example to draw attention to the alarming increase in the number of Canadian adults, children and youth who are carrying extra body weight or are obese. Experts estimate that 10 to 25 per cent of all teenagers and 20 to 50 per cent of all adults have a weight problem. Even B.C., which had the lowest rate in Canada several years ago, is now seeing an increase. As a consequence, being overweight or obese is now regarded as a significant individual and population health issue that is gaining widespread public and medical attention.
To support and educate our community, the Agassiz Community Health Centre, along with its partners, will be hosting a public information day on Thursday, 24 March from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Cheam Village on MacKay Crescent. The theme of this month’s event will be “From Farm to Plate”. The focus will be on nutrition – healthy eating, proper nutrition, and weight management.
Weight problems start to occur when the body consumes more energy than it burns. It stores the extra calories as fat not only just below the skin but also on the surface layer of the heart, in the supporting tissues within the abdomen, and in the loose tissues around the kidneys. The excess fat acts as an overload, causing at least four of the body’s vital organs – the heart, lungs, liver, and kidney – to work harder. But it’s the role fat is playing at the chemical level that is of growing interest today. Researchers have discovered that inflammation, a normal, healthy process occurring in the human body to fight infection or injury, can become an unhealthy condition when it mistakenly harms healthy tissues. Their research suggests that chemicals being produced by visceral fat packed in around the organs of the abdominal cavity may be responsible for many troublesome and dangerous diseases. So whether body organs are stressed or compromised at the metabolic level, the consequence for people who are overweight or obese is increased risk of developing a serious medical condition.
The list includes high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, diabetes, gallbladder or liver disease, breathing disorders, certain cancers, and joint disease. Aside from medical complications, being overweight or obese is also linked to psychosocial problems such a slow self-esteem, discrimination, difficulty finding employment and reduced quality of life.
Health researchers have come to another disturbing conclusion. They predict that the present generation will be the first in human history with a shorter life expectancy than their parents. The main fear is that obese children and adolescents have a high risk of becoming obese adults and of exposure to a number of dangerous cardiovascular disease risk factors from a very early age.
The body mass index (BMI) and waist circumference (WC) measurement are two tools used by health professionals to help assess one’s risk of developing health problems associated with being overweight. The BMI is a ratio of weight-to-height classified into four categories. They are: underweight (less than 18.5), normal weight (between 18.5 and 24.9), overweight (between 25 and 29.9) and obese (30 and over). The WC measurement is an indicator of health risk associated with abdominal obesity. Excess fat around the waist and upper body (also described as an “apple” body shape) is associated with greater health risk than fat located more in the hip and thigh areas (described as a “pear” body shape). A WC measurement of 102 cm (40 in.) or more for men, and 88 cm (35 in.) or more for women, is associated with an increased risk of developing health problems such as Type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease and high blood pressure.
Being overweight or obese is a leading cause of preventable illness and death. A majority of people can achieve significant improvement in their health and quality of life by losing weight, becoming physically active and changing daily habits. The health professionals in this community are committed to helping people attain a healthy weight. For that reason, they will be in attendance at the Nutrition Day event on March 24. You will be able to consult with a dietitian or nurse and have access to considerable resources so that you can take the first steps to improving your health and well-being.
(Fraser Valley Health – Agassiz Community Health Centre)