It’s a worldwide epidemic and it even affects many of those who workout regularly,
including athletes. It’s the accumulation of excess stored body fat.
JB just reached birthday number 40 and claimed that it was the first time body fat content appeared too high. Were there indicators over the years warning that body fat would be increasing? Probably yes. In fact, there may have been more than 40 years of signs and symptoms. Predicting JB’s vulnerability to being overfat was possible, but it was not a question of fate.
Whether our workouts are reduced as life gets busy, or we spend too much time sitting, especially watching TV and the computer screen, or grab too much fast food, sometimes body fat accumulates too much. Some say the problem seems to arise when we’re not looking, despite watching what we eat or working out regularly. Regardless of the reasons, excess body fat is too common, and a serious, ongoing worldwide epidemic that continues to grow. Call it overweight or, when more extreme, obese, but don’t call it normal or healthy, because it’s not.
I’m not talking about what many think is having slightly too much body fat, or a few extra pounds of scale weight. But in most cases, those who have too much body fat, whether it shows on the scale or not, know it. Clothes fit too tight, waists get larger, bellies bigger. With more than the necessary body fat we need for health comes the real potential for illness, poor fitness, and even disease. It’s a vicious cycle—with reduced health and fitness comes more body fat, which further reduces health and fitness.
For virtually everyone, being overfat is not genetic but a lifestyle issue. In particular, when the body burns less fat for energy, more is stored. It’s not that we don’t burn enough calories—we don’t burn enough fat calories.
Our body requires a certain amount of stored fat to protect organs, glands and bones, regulate temperature and perform many other important jobs. So too little body fat can also be a problem. But this article is about the overfat epidemic, which affects 75 percent of the world’s population, and shows no signs of slowing.
While a widening waist with age is something that can’t be denied in the majority of people, and a very common warning of increased body fat, numerous other indicators exist. Some clues start before birth, and can predict the risk of being overfat later in life, while others appear as we age. A recent study confirmed many of the long-known risk factors, but uncovered others. The research, by doctors Glenn Flores and Hua Lin of the Department of Pediatrics, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas, Texas, was published in April 2013 in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
Below are some of the more significant risk factors that predict the increased risk for being overfat.
The developing fetus sets its metabolism based on the maternal body. So when the mother does not burn enough fat, which may be due to increased stress during pregnancy, poor blood sugar control, poor diet, or other factors, it predicts an increased risk for the child to be overfat sometime during his or her life. Maternal gestational diabetes is particularly a problem, as is hypertension, and being overfat before becoming pregnant. (Interestingly, research shows that pregnant women with the lowest alcohol intake had babies with higher, not lower, risks of becoming overfat.)
At birth, a number of factors can predict being overfat. These include cesarean delivery, and birth weight of five and one-half pounds or less and above eight pounds. In addition, ethnic factors exist: those with darker versus lighter skin have higher risk for being overfat.
In the study noted above, it was shown that a third of American kindergartners were overfat. Predictors for this problem included less breastfeeding and earlier introduction to formula and solid foods, and feeding on a schedule rather than when hungry. Those who drank water with meals, consumed fast foods and sugary-drinks, including soda, sports drinks and fruit drinks, had increased risk for being overfat.
Other predictors of being over fat included trying to have the child toilet trained before one year of age, and increased screen-watching (TV and computer). An interesting developmental factor in children was the age they pulled themselves to a standing position: those who could accomplish this before 7.5 months had a higher risk of being overfat in kindergarten.
As children age, those who are taller than average for age have an increased risk for being overfat. Another risk factor included children who regularly had reduced amounts of sleep. (Grownups with insomnia or sleep apnea are usually overfat.)
As adults, we don’t have control over how we were treated early in life. But in addition to having significant influence of our children’s lifestyle, we also are in charge of our own health. My personal experience is not unlike that of most healthy adults—much of our life is spent undoing the damage of childhood, especially that of dietary distress. Our advantage is that the body is incredibly resilient. We replace it regularly, and the new cells we make come from the foods we eat—one reason to never eat anything that is not healthy. (In addition to many articles on this Website, I’ve written an entire book on this topic—The Big Book of Health and Fitness.)
Our family history can also give us clues about the susceptibility to being overfat. The illnesses in our parents and grandparents may also appear in us as part of the cycle of being overfat contributing to illness or disease. Here is the list of conditions to look for in both family and personal history: kidney or gall stones, gout, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and or low HDL cholesterol, high triglycerides, heart disease, stroke, and breast cancer. Of course the greatest family history factor is when a parent or grandparent has or had adult onset diabetes.
Also in adults at any age are a variety of signs and symptoms that indicate carbohydrate intolerance—the metabolic factor that is most often associated with being overfat. The most common ones include poor concentration or sleepiness after meals, and increased intestinal gas or bloating.
Frequent cravings for sweets or caffeine, often associated with lower levels of energy, are also associated with the increased risk of being overfat, along with low protein intake.
A common sign in women with an overfat metabolism, whether they are slim or not, is polycystic ovary (ovarian cysts). In both sexes, fat often first appears to increase in the abdominal area, and sometimes in the face (especially cheeks).
Increased risk of having too much body fat does not necessarily mean one will become overfat—but those with higher risk more likely will. We have control of our metabolism, and those with increased risk usually need to be more careful with lifestyle factors to avoid being part of the overfat epidemic.