WHAT CAUSES OBE­SITY?

WHAT MOST PEO­PLE BE­LIEVE ABOUT OBE­SITY IS WRONG. LET’S START TO FIGHT THAT WITH THE FACTS.

LOSE IT! - - Contents - BY DR SCHOONBEE

Dr Schoonbee looks at the fac­tors

IT is one of the great mys­ter­ies of the uni­verse that some of us store food as un­wanted fat in those dou­ble chins, ‘man boobs’ and ‘love han­dles’ and on our thighs and bums, while oth­ers seem to live a far un­health­ier lifestyle and eat as much as they like with­out gain­ing a gram.

Most peo­ple think obe­sity is caused by con­sum­ing more calo­ries than your body needs, or by be­ing a to­tal sloth – obese folk just need to stop be­ing so greedy and get ex­er­cis­ing, right?

Wrong. On both counts.

The real rea­sons some of us tend to be­come obese: IT’S HERED­I­TARY

Fam­i­lies share ge­netic char­ac­ter­is­tics that may lead to obe­sity. Obese ba­bies born to obese mothers have a much greater chance of be­com­ing obese adults.

Fat dis­tri­bu­tion is also ge­net­i­cally de­ter­mined to some ex­tent. Are you an ap­ple or a pear? Chances are you’ll see sim­i­lar fat dis­tri­bu­tion in other mem­bers of your fam­ily too. Rare chromo- so­mal ab­nor­mal­i­ties like PraderWilli syn­drome, which causes con­stant hunger, can also be re­spon­si­ble for mor­bid obe­sity.

But there are many other fac­tors be­sides our genes that cause obe­sity, such as:

THE TYPES OF FOOD WE EAT

This is prob­a­bly the most com­mon cause of obe­sity cur­rently. Since the ’50s we’ve been the vic­tims of wrong ad­vice: the mis­in­ter­pre­ta­tion of re­search data led to the idea that obe­sity and heart dis­ease are caused by eat­ing too much fat and too many calo­ries in gen­eral. So, in an ef­fort to re­verse the obe­sity epi­demic, the World Health Or­gan­i­sa­tion en­cour­aged us to limit our calo­rie in­take and the fats in our diet. But this strat­egy has failed mis­er­ably – lev­els of obe­sity are still in­creas­ing glob­ally.

Ev­i­dence is mount­ing that the big­gest cause of obe­sity – in wealthy and poverty-stricken coun­tries alike – is the con­sump­tion of large amounts of re­fined car­bo­hy­drates and sug­ars (es­pe­cially fruc­tose) in our daily di­ets. This leads to in­sulin re­sis­tance and, in turn, meta­bolic syn­drome, the mark­ers of which in­clude obe­sity, hy­per­ten­sion, type 2 di­a­betes and un­healthy blood lipid pro­files.

IT’S HOR­MONAL

Although in­sulin is the pri­mary hor­mone re­spon­si­ble for obe­sity, other hor­mones and hor­monal changes can also con­trib­ute to the in­crease in the amount of fat in our fat cells. A con­di­tion like hy­pothy­roidism, for ex­am­ple, causes weight gain, but is treat­able with med­i­ca­tion.

Hor­monal changes at midlife cause weight gain – mainly around the waist.

LIFESTYLE FAC­TORS

Stress lev­els sky-high? When you’re stressed, your body pro­duces cor­ti­sol and adrenaline, which stop the break­down of fat. Sleeping too lit­tle, or poorly? Com­plete couch potato? These can also cause weight gain.

MED­I­CA­TION

Cer­tain med­i­ca­tions cause weight gain in some. These in­clude in­sulin for type 2 di­a­bet­ics, an­tipsy­chotics, an­tide­pres­sants and some beta-block­ers.

THE LAST WORD

There are many other pos­si­ble causes of obe­sity, and re­searchers are work­ing on un­rav­el­ling the mys­tery. Many stud­ies are look­ing at the role of the mi­cro­biota – the bac­te­ria in the large in­tes­tine – in con­trol­ling weight. But in the mean­time, let’s fight obe­sity by ad­dress­ing the is­sues we are able to. That starts with mak­ing pos­i­tive lifestyle changes and fol­low­ing a low-carb, healthy fat eat­ing plan.

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