The number of people suffering from obesity has risen dramatically over the past decades, and sadly, our understanding of this health issue is often lacking and it only magnifies the stigma and increases the risk of the so-called obesity epidemic spreading even further.
As a matter of fact, there are a number of pervasive myths surrounding obesity that are just not true and have been debunked by science a long time ago. For example, the fact that obesity runs in the family doesn’t mean that you’re bound to get it is a complete myth, as is the belief that the number of pounds you lose is the best measure of success.
1. Eating less and exercising is enough to combat obesity
While it is certainly true that many people develop obesity as a result of eating too many calories and not moving around enough, there are also many other factors that could make a person develop obesity. For example, things like insufficient sleep, chronic pain, hormone issues, some medications, and even stress can make you gain excess weight.
In most cases, obesity is a combination of several different factors that can interact and multiply each other. For example, chronic stress and psychological problems can make people more prone to overeating, which can exacerbate the issue. Therefore, while managing one’s caloric intake and increasing activity levels is certainly part of treating obesity, it is often not enough on its own.
2. The number of pounds you lost is the best evidence of success
In many people’s minds, combating obesity boils down to weight loss and the number of pounds or kilograms you lose. However, this type of excessive focus on weight loss and your progress on the scale is not only psychologically unhealthy but is also not particularly helpful.
On one hand, focusing on the number of kilograms you lose can make you obsessed with the scale, which has been shown scientifically to increase one’s risk of stress and eating disorders. On the other hand, weight loss is not a good measure of health. Therefore, the best strategy for people suffering from obesity with long-term success in mind is to focus on healthy nutrition, exercise, and other recommendations given to you by doctors and nutrition experts.
Over time, your doctor should observe improvements in your blood work and blood pressure, and you will most likely feel changes in your mental health, sleep quality, and physical activity. As the CDC states, “weight loss of 5–10% of your total body weight is likely to produce health benefits, such as improvements in blood pressure, blood cholesterol, and blood sugars.” And those positive health effects are the best possible sign that you’re on the right path.
3. Obesity doesn't really affect your health
It is certainly true that obesity on its own doesn’t cause diabetes and cardiovascular issues, but this doesn’t mean that obesity doesn’t influence your health either. For example, it is a known and well-researched fact that obesity multiplies one’s risk of developing such serious conditions, as hypertension and cardiovascular disease, stroke, gallbladder disease, diabetes, arthritis, mental health issues, and sleep apnea.
In addition, the CDC reports that obesity has a direct correlation with increased mortality rates. Therefore, treating obesity is extremely important for maintaining your long-term health and addressing already-existing health issues.
4. Obesity is strictly genetic
Many people think that they’re bound to develop obesity at one point in their life if their family members have it. But obesity isn’t the same as body type and it’s more closely related to the amount of excess body fat, particularly visceral body fat than it is to body shape. That said, there is a genetic component to obesity, and researchers have tried to count the number of genes that influence one’s risk of obesity.
Studies have managed to identify over 50 genes linked to obesity, but most of these genes have a very minor effect. The specific gene variant most prominently associated with obesity is the FTO variant, which has been proven to increase the odds of developing the disease by 1.23-fold.
The research involved 218 thousand adults, and one of the most interesting findings was that the people who had this gene variant but were physically active had a 27% decreased chance to suffer from obesity. Twin studies comparing twins brought up separately to those raised together likewise confirm that genetic similarities have little or no influence compared to the environment.
5. Making fruits and vegetables more affordable will solve global obesity
It has been long observed that obesity is becoming increasingly widespread in areas where fresh produce like fruit and vegetables are scarce. As a result, some people started to think that making fresh plant-based foods available is enough to stop obesity in these areas. Unfortunately, though, attempts of making these foods available and cheaper in so-called "food deserts" have shown that these attempts are not so effective on their own, after all.
Instead, research confirms that making fruits and vegetables available together with promoting healthy eating habits in families and widespread education about healthy nutrition is the only way to reduce the spread of obesity consistently and effectively. In any case, we should definitely stop thinking of obesity as an issue of lazy or poor people, as it seems to be a systemic and complex issue that goes beyond personal choices.
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