“The headlines this week broadcast the following research: Doctors at NYU Langone Health center conducted the largest study so far of US hospital admissions for COVID-19, focused on New York City. They found obesity, along with age, was the biggest deciding factor in hospital admissions, which may suggest the role of hyper-inflammatory reactions that can happen in those with the disease.”
Just what are the latest facts and implications about our obesity epidemic in the U.S.?
This data is from the U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention in February 2020 and presented in Life Extension Magazine, May 2020.
- A startling result is that 42.4% of adults are obese. Additionally, 31.8% were overweight.
- This situation is expected to not improve statistically. A study in the New England Journal of Medicine estimates that by 2030, the percentage of obese American adults will rise to 48.9%. These percentages reflect a total of $446 billion dollars of medical costs annually.
- Women, African Americans, and those with a low socioeconomic status are affected at a significantly higher rate.
What are the medical implications?
- Excess body weight increases the risk of developing and dying from a broad spectrum of cardiovascular diseases, cognitive disorders (e.g. Alzheimer’s) and at least 13 different types of cancers.
- Obesity has been determined to be the underlying cause of approximately 20% of deaths in the United States.
- An analysis of 57 studies encompassing 900,000 individuals published in Lancet found that for every 5 point increment in Body Mass Index was associated with a 30% increased mortality risk.
- Additional negative effects of excess weight include fatty liver disease, sleep apnea, chronic pain syndromes like low back pain, IBS, osteoarthtis, depression, negative pregnancy outcomes, and chronic inflammation.
Foods that Kill
There are many factors that contribute to the rise in obesity rates; however, diet and lifestyle have recently been identified and collectively referred to as components of the Standard American Diet (SAD). One of these is processed food.
- Processed foods tend to be high in added sugar, salt, oil and unhealthy fats are often mentioned as well as ultra-processed foods that are so altered that they hardly resemble their original whole-food state.
- The food industry refers to them as an “industrial product” loaded with additives that attempt to enhance the food’s characteristics such as food stability, shelf life, textures, colors, and flavors. They are often referred to as emulsifiers, humectants, and sequestrants or others that have barely recognizable names. Ultra-processed foods are often ready-to-eat, require minimal preparation and are highly marketed. Ultra-processed foods account for more than 60% of dietary energy in the U.S.
- Populations that have the lowest intake of processed foods exist and have been recently studied and known as the Blue Zones. These are groups of individuals that live an average of 10 years longer than those in cultures who consume the SAD, otherwise known as the Western diet. These areas are found around the globe in Sardinia, Italy, Ikaria, Greece, Okinawa, Loma Linda, California, and Nicoya, Costa Rica.
- An observational study of Spanish university graduates followed participants for a median of 10.4 years. Consumption of an average of 5.3 servings of ultra-processed food per day, compared to an average of less than 1.5 servings per day, was associated with a 62% increase for all-cause mortality. For each additional serving, this risk increased by 18%.
What Is the Optimal Diet?
There are numerable reports on the health benefits of vegan, vegetarian, or plant-based diets. However, there is one diet that has been studied extensively for its healthy effects called the Mediterranean Diet. There is no one Mediterranean diet; however, it is usually associated with the intake of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds, extra-virgin olive oil, fish, seafood, moderate amounts of poultry, eggs, and dairy products. Red meat and sweets are limited as well as a low intake of processed foods. A moderate intake of wine is acceptable. (moderate = 1-2 glasses).
A possible molecular explanation for why overweight is harmful has been discovered by researchers. They suggest that overeating increases the immune response. This response causes the body to generate excessive inflammation during the COVID-19 infection and that inflammation is at the core of many other chronic diseases.
University of Oslo. “Being overweight causes hazardous inflammations.” ScienceDaily, 25, August 2014.
If current trends continue and we find that 50% of our population is in the obese weight category, there will be alarming rates of catastrophic health consequences. Our health care costs will become unsustainable. It is a common belief that as long as you are not obese, you can be overweight and still be healthy. This is not always true. Many studies have found that a higher weight was associated with a higher risk of dying; however, this has remained a major debate issue among obesity experts.