“As per the CDC, more than 36.5% of the American population has obesity,1 which puts them at high risk of chronic health problems including type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart diseases, and cancer.2”
So, it’s a weekend, and you are binge-watching the latest TV series. The story is so gripping you’d hate to get up and cook a meal. Why not just order in the large, cheesy, juicy hamburger they advertised moments ago and a large soda to wash it down? Well, of course, you can cut yourself some slack on a weekend. But are you aware that you’ve just given in to some of today’s most prevalent lifestyle choices that cause obesity?
While some of us are genetically prone to obesity, experts claim that the current “epidemic” of obesity has more to do with environmental and behavioral factors than with biological or genetic factors.3 The WHO defines environment in relation to health as “all the physical, chemical, biological factors external to a person, and all the related behaviors.”4
To put it very simply, environmental factors like the climate, availability and variety of food, degree of pollution in the air, water, and crops, homes and communities, flora and fauna, and infrastructure all influence our lifestyle and behavior – such as where we live, what we eat, what we do for a living, how we travel, how we dress, what we do for recreation, and how we sleep. All these lifestyle and behavioral factors then influence our health. Obesity too is a function of such lifestyle and behavioral factors. Let’s take a look at 3 such lifestyle and environmental factors of obesity.
1. Lack Of Physical Activity
One of the most common environmental factor of obesity is lack of physical activities. Given that the human race has transitioned from an agricultural to industrial and currently digital age, our mode of working has changed from hard labor in open fields to sedentary jobs in front of the computer. This has drastically cut down our physical activity as we spend more time sitting.
We don’t engage in physical activities like regular exercises or even walking. Let’s face it, to save time, we would much rather drive our car everywhere, even if the distance is short.
“Take the stairs and ditch the elevator. Don’t take the car if the distance is walkable. Do outdoor activities with your kids and pets on weekends.”
Most of us prefer to take the lift or the escalator at office, malls, and other places instead of the stairs even if we don’t have a limiting health condition.
We would much rather shop for groceries, clothes, and even medicines online so that we don’t have to trudge to departmental stores and rummage through the shelves. Of course, there’s no denying that this saves time. But this also means that we are opting out of what little physical activity we can manage after a day of slogging at the office desk.5
Using the stairs instead of the lifts, walking in the park, and avoiding the use of vehicles for short distances are some of the easiest ways to make sure our bodies get some form of exercise.
Obesity among children is also a rising concern. One of the reasons is children’s interest in watching television or playing video games rather than in outdoor activities like playing basketball or going to the park.
If you have a furry friend, let your children take them out for a walk. Play an outdoor game with your children on the weekends, go for a swim together, or take them out for a hike. The parent-child bond you reinforce through this will be an added bonus.
2. The Lure Of Fast Food Joints And Food Advertising
Food environments matter. An NHS study could link obesity to the demographic distribution of fast food outlets in various neighborhoods in the UK. So, if you stay in a place with many fast food joints, after a busy day at work, you may prefer to skip cooking and eat from those restaurants because the food is cheap, tasty, and easily available.
“Keep some time aside in the weekend to prepare meals that are easy to cook and store. Chop your veggies beforehand and store them in airtight containers. Pack up the entire week’s snacks in ziplock pouches.”
These foods are rich in calories but poor in the nutrients that your body requires. They are also fattening and result in overweight and obesity.6
The easiest way around this is to cook easy and preservable meals at home on weekends or prepare for weekday meals in advance. Follow this list of meal-prepping ideas for weight loss. But make sure you sneak in a treat once in a while just so you don’t tire of healthy eating and give up midway through your weight loss program.
“Have carrot sticks with a hummus dip while watching TV; replace the tub of ice cream with a bowl of yogurt with a fruit garnish.”
Add to the prevalence of food joints the onslaught of food advertisement. Both children and adults are influenced by the food advertisements that are broadcast on television. A study shows that food advertising has a huge influence on eating behaviors. The influence is far more than brand preference. In this study, children ate 45% more when exposed to food advertisements.7
You cannot avoid advertisements if you don’t live under a rock, but you can certainly control your eating patterns. If you or your kid like munching while watching TV, keep healthy snacks handy. Fill smaller bowls and eat slowly.
3. Low Socioeconomic Status
Have you ever thought that your risk of or propensity toward obesity can also depend on your socioeconomic status (SES)? Your “socioeconomic status” refers to your status with respect to others based on characteristics such as income, qualifications, type of occupation, and where you live.
While we would naturally associate obesity with affluence, studies show that people with lower SES are increasingly more vulnerable to obesity8 because of their diets and lack of physical activity.
Their diets are richer in carbs and saturated fats that are often less expensive than fresh veggies and fruits, whole grains, and fiber.9 Their neighborhoods may also give them limited or no access to parks, gyms, or jogging tracks, which would result in low physical activity, especially in kids.
“Even if you don’t have access to gyms, jogging tracks, or gym equipment, try cardio and strength training at home, using your own body weight.”
Low socioeconomic status is also often tied in with low educational status. This would, in turn, result in little or no awareness on the need for proper nutrition and physical activities. This trend is more pronounced in women. Among men, however, education does not seem to be a factor, and men with higher income are more prone toward obesity. This can be because the link between obesity and socioeconomic status isn’t always linear. Race and ethnicity also play a role.10
Awareness programs on proper food choices and eating habits can prevent obesity among low SES population. Nutritious food is not always expensive. Likewise, your levels of physical activity should not depend on gym facilities or a jogging track. Here are 5 cardio exercises you can do at home without any equipment.
Our environment, lifestyle, and food habits depend on how healthy we are and is closely linked to obesity. Adequate physical activities and healthy food consumption are important to stay healthy.
|↑1||Adult Obesity Facts. CDC.|
|↑2||Overweight & Obesity Statistics. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.|
|↑3||Brantley, P. J., V. H. Myers, and H. J. Roy. “Environmental and lifestyle influences on obesity.” The Journal of the Louisiana State Medical Society: official organ of the Louisiana State Medical Society 157 (2005): S19-27.|
|↑4||Environmental Health. Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion.|
|↑5||Lack of exercise, not diet, linked to rise in obesity, Stanford research shows. Stanford Medicine.|
|↑6||Crino, Michelle, Gary Sacks, Stefanie Vandevijvere, Boyd Swinburn, and Bruce Neal. “The influence on population weight gain and obesity of the macronutrient composition and energy density of the food supply.” Current obesity reports 4, no. 1 (2015): 1-10.|
|↑7||Harris, Jennifer L., John A. Bargh, and Kelly D. Brownell. “Priming effects of television food advertising on eating behavior.” Health psychology 28, no. 4 (2009): 404.|
|↑8||Faith, Myles S., and Tanja VE Kral. “Social environmental and genetic influences on obesity and obesity-promoting behaviors: Fostering research integration.” (2006).|
|↑9||Gearhart, Randall F., Dennis M. Gruber, and David F. Vanata. “Obesity in the lower socio-economic status segments of American society.” In Forum in public policy. Ashland University, Ohio USA. Serie en internet. 2008.|
|↑10||Obesity and Socioeconomic Status in Adults: United States, 2005–2008. CDC.|