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Study: Societal changes are needed to battle obesity epidemic

Obesity rates are on the rise worldwide, and in the U.S almost three-quarters of adults are overweight or obese. Obesity has been linked to a number of metabolic health disorders, cardiovascular problems, and can increase the risk of some cancers.

When it comes to finding solutions for the growing rates of obesity, there is no one perfect answer. Many health experts would agree that simply eating less and exercising more is the best way to improve health and reduce waistlines, but it’s not quite that simple.

There are others that point to poorly displayed nutritional information, misleading nutritional recommendations, negative attitudes towards people in larger bodies, and a lack of policies as problems that need to be factored into the obesity discussion.

The American College of Cardiology recently addressed this dichotomy in tackling the obesity crisis in a new review paper published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology. The report is part of a health-promotion series that focuses on different risk factors for cardiovascular disease.

The authors discuss how there have to be changes both at an individual and societal level to combat increases in obesity rates.  

“While there is debate over whether responsibility for curbing the current obesity trends should fall on individuals or policymakers and lobbyists, it is clear that stronger initiatives are needed,” said Carl J. Lavie, the lead author of the paper.

Lavie and the other authors point out that obesity rates in the US have paralleled dietary changes and a decrease in physical activity, and so the researchers emphasize the need for individual action in making these crucial lifestyle changes.

“While some individuals have a genetic predisposition to obesity, the most common causes are poor diet choices and even more so a lack of physical activity,” said Carl J. Lavie, the lead author of the paper. “Rising obesity rates have been shown to parallel the increasing consumption of refined carbohydrates and added sugars and probably, more importantly, an increase in sedentariness and a decrease in physical activity.”

There has been a shift in dietary recommendations to help people achieve healthier diets that don’t use elimination tactics according to the authors. For example, incorporating a diet like the Mediterranean diet allows for greater flexibility for people and makes sticking to the diet easier.

The paper also talks about the importance of physical activity in improving cardiovascular health and preventing weight gain.

However, along with these changes on an individual level, the authors also call for more policy and environmental-wide interventions like making communities more friendly for walking and biking, increasing the affordability of healthy foods, increasing access to health services, and implementing more health and wellness programs in schools.

The authors say that more research is required because there is not one solution that will work for everyone and health professionals need to be aware of the best tactics for decreasing obesity in different groups of people.

“Ultimately, reconciling the obesity crisis will require a greater commitment from both sides to create a proactive culture of health and wellness that aspires to prevent chronic disease rather than treating it,” said Lavie.

By Kay Vandette, Staff Writer

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