Our weight and premature death

A CLINICAL study of 3.9 million adults in 189 countries, published in the medical journal, Lancet, revealed that our risk for illness (like hypertension, diabetes, heart diseases, stroke, Alzheimer’s and cancer) and premature death are impacted by our weight. Overweight and obese individuals have the highest risk. Obesity is actually second to smoking as a cause of premature deaths.

The World Health Organization reported that worldwide there are about 1.3 million who are overweight and about 600 million are obese. The prevalence of obesity in North America is 31 percent and in Europe, 20 percent.

In the Philippines, the incidence of obesity is rising and so with diabetes. We have one of the highest numbers of diabetics, if not the top, in Asia, most blaming it on our culture of eating a lot of white rice and bread, carbohydrates in general, including soft drinks. In 2008, one out of every five (20 percent) Filipinos had diabetes. Ten years before this, it was only 3.9 percent, a jump of over 5 times. Extrapolated, the actual incidence today might be around 22.4 million, and diabetes is among the top causes of mortality, with more than 20,000 deaths annually.

Alarming obesity statistics

Obesity in children has doubled the past couple of decades, tripled the past 30 years. If the trend is allowed to continue through our parental neglect, inaction, or indifference, it is conceivable that obesity will quadruple in another ten years. And since obesity increases the risk for diseases, like hypertension, diabetes and other metabolic illnesses, heart attack, stroke and cancer, longevity would obviously be shorter. All the gains mankind has achieved the past six decades through advances in medical science and technology–preventive, diagnostic and therapeutic–could simply go to waste for this segment of the world population, where premature death would rise to an even greater level. Today, among the affluent people around the world, including those in developing nations, obesity afflicts about 20 percent of children aged 6 to 11, and more alarmingly, about 10 percent of those aged 2 to 5 are obese. Among those between ages 12 and 19, 18 percent are also obese. Even the pets of those who are overweight or obese are also overweight.

Chubby kids are at risk
In Asian culture, a chubby kid is somehow considered a healthy child. Many TV commercials today use plump and rotund children in their food, vitamin and other ads. This sends a wrong and dangerous message, and a disservice to the public, especially to our youngsters. Nothing is farther from the truth. Overweight children, as shown by countless studies, are more likely to develop a cluster of health problems (Metabolic Syndrome) and their complications, compared to their peers with normal weight.

The risk factors that characterize Metabolic Syndrome are elevated triglycerides (blood fats), blood sugar, and blood pressure, low HDL (High Density Lipoproteins, the good cholesterol), and abdominal obesity. These precede the development of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.

The increase in the global incidence of diabetes (in all age groups) has also catapulted: from 2.8 percent in 1980 to 4.2 percent in year 2000 and extrapolated to be 4.4 percent in 2030, from 171 million globally in 2000 to 366 million in 2030. Diabetes and cardiovascular illnesses parallel the rate of our increasing waistline. Fifty percent of all obese adults also have high blood pressure. Premature death is defined as one occurring before age 69. The risk of premature death for those who are obese is 10.5 percent higher than those with normal BMI.

Sleep affects obesity risk in children

A 1990 ten-year study of 977 children from age 4½ to age 15 revealed children’s bedtime habits also influence their BMI. Those who went to bed at 8 p.m. or earlier was linked to the lowest incidence of obesity, 10 percent, when they reached age 15. Those who went to bed between 8 p.m. and 9 p.m., had a 16 percent rate of obesity; and among those who went to sleep after 9 p.m., 23 percent became obese by the time they got to 15.

The “simple” equation

In a nutshell, diet (quantity and quality of food) and daily physical exercise (at least 30 minutes a day) are the key ingredients in maintaining a normal weight and a healthier body. The other important factors in the equation are abstinence from tobacco, intelligent moderation in alcohol intake, and stress management and relaxation. Naturally, regular medical and dental checkups and religious compliance with prescription medications are also essential.

Loving our children

Some of us may be shortening the life of our children without realizing it, unintentionally, unwittingly, and all in the name of love, but nonetheless devastating to them when they reach middle age and beyond. “Love not our children to death” is the message in my coffee-table book on disease prevention starting at the cellular (DNA) level, published in the United States and in the Philippines, entitled Let’s Stop “Killing” Our Children. Its Philippine edition was printed by Central Book Supply in Quezon City, and may be viewed online at

Timing of the strategy

The most effective disease prevention, including maintenance of a normal weight, must start during childhood, dieting starting from the crib. That’s when the brain is more receptive to teaching and when preferences and habits are just beginning to develop. Our children learn by example and copy our bad dietary and exercise habits. A child with one obese parent is 3 times more likely to be obese as an adult, and one with two obese parents has ten times the risk. In general, the fault lies in us parents, whether we want to admit it or not.

For the rest of us, it is never too late to start, no matter how old we are. Adopting a healthy lifestyle is always beneficial at any stage in life. However, as I stressed in my book, dieting should start during infancy, in the crib, if we are to prevent damage to our children’s DNA and end the massive epidemic of obesity in children and adults and save our young from developing what society considers “normal and expected” diseases of adults like arthritis, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, Alzheimer’s and cancer. On the contrary, if we protect the integrity of the DNA of our children starting from the womb and in the crib to adulthood, almost all of these diseases are preventable. Among us, adults, a healthy lifestyle will minimize our risk for diseases and disability, and will even improve our longevity.

E-mail: [email protected]

TAGS: cancer, diabetes, diseases, health, hypertension, sickness, stroke, weight
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