Last March, I attended the 12th International Congress on Obesity (ICO) organized by the World Obesity Federation, held in Kuala Lumpur Convention Center, Malaysia.
World Obesity is a federation of member organizations in over 50 countries representing scientists, medical and health experts working in the field of obesity research, clinical management and education.
I took the opportunity to be a part of this holistic event to learn more about the latest studies and worldwide solutions to the obesity epidemic with topics covering stress, psychology, health, life events, sleep, physical activity, nutrition, public health and serious health problems such as cancer.
The following are top findings and insights from the conference sessions I’ve attended. These current issues are extremely important to the global situation of health, weight and obesity issues. Speakers based their presentations on the results of their studies.
The initial best way to battle overweight and obesity is to focus the prevention and management as early as before pregnancy. This means managing a mother’s weight and lifestyle even before planning to conceive a child. Continuous management should be done during and after pregnancy by giving attention to weight and health of the mother. Aside from genes, a mother’s weight, health and lifestyle can greatly contribute to her child’s future predisposition to obesity.
To avoid and manage childhood obesity, experts are recommending to limit television hours to less than two hours a day, to increase awareness of children to move more by achieving at least one hour of physical activity per day and to lessen consumption of fast food.
Studies show that the top food purchased by children processed food, pizza and drinks. Public health efforts should focus on lessening cost of healthy food such as fruits and vegetables and imposing taxes on unhealthy food such as fast food and sugary drinks.
Our body is more efficient in storing calories from liquids such as flavored drinks so efforts to reduce unwanted extra calories from drinks should be made.
Physical activity and health
For a more positive health outcome, incorporating physical activity into one’s lifestyle is more important than just focusing on weight. A thin and sedentary individual is more at risk of health problems than an overweight and physically active individual. But achieving a normal weight (including a healthy diet) and an active lifestyle are still the best strategies for optimizing health and over-all function.
Cardiovascular fitness is as important as resistance training when it comes to improving health, quality of life and weight. For the elderly, lean/muscle mass decreases and body fat increases even the weight is still maintained, so it is a must to perform resistance training to preserve muscle mass and improve daily physical function.
Exercise and weight maintenance
For weight maintenance, the recommended 150 minutes/week of mild to moderate physical activity for the general population is no longer enough. It should be equal to or more than 300 minutes/week or 60-90 minutes of moderate exercise per day (equivalent to 60-90 minutes of brisk walking, three to five times a week or 150 minutes/week or more of more intense physical activities). This shows the major role of physical activity and exercise in weight maintenance.
High-protein, low-glycemic index diet
Studies show that a high protein and low glycemic index diet promotes satiety and is effective in weight control as compared to diets low in protein and high in glycemic index. But according to another study, increase in protein intake to lose weight is more applicable for obese individuals rather than for an individual who is already at a more stable weight. This shows that not all high-protein and low-glycemic diets don’t work for all. It is best to consult a health professional or dietician for an individualized eating program.
Controlling fat intake
We can manage our fat intake in three ways (substitution, removal and elimination): by replacing food high in saturated fat such as burgers, butter, chips with polyunsaturated fats such as seeds, fish and vegetable oils, then by removing visible fats like pork fat and lastly by eliminating food from our diet with embedded fats like processed meat food.
Depression is related to obesity. There are two different types of depression: melancholic depression, which is associated with poor appetite and atypical depression, associated with increased appetite and abdominal obesity. Atypical depression contributes to weight gain and most obese people have this type. Mental health, thus play a big role in obesity prevention and management.
Studies were presented show the relationship of obesity and cancer. Obesity is a major risk for many forms of cancer such as cancer of the breast, esophageal, gall bladder, endometrial, colon, kidney and pancreas.
Aside from sleep duration (getting less than six hours of sleep), irregular sleep patterns are also linked with obesity. Management of sleeping environment, current stressors and time should be given attention to. Individuals with sleep irregularities should seek advice from health professionals and ask social support from loved ones so that a quality sleep can be achieved.
Increased stress resulting from lack of sleep (duration and quality), negative life events and negative social relationship is related to higher body mass Index (BMI) and waist circumference. Stress increases preference for high fat and energy-dense food, it reduces one’s physical activities and it invokes processes that increase fat accumulation such as production of stress hormone-cortisol, responsible for belly fat. Therefore, stress management, attitude change and even sleep management should be included to create an effective weight management program.
Health/weight control promotion in a workplace plays a big role in an individual’s lifestyle change since majority of the waking hours is spent at work. However, programs should be long-term and not only lasting for weeks or three months, it should be effectively evaluated and it should be really be tailor-fitted to achieve significant positive effects on employees’ health and well-being and so to ensure company productivity.
Weight control strategies by experts focusing on “how” aside from “what” when it comes to imparting dietary advice to people shows clear evidence in producing significant weight loss. People will comply more with their programs and will achieve better results if they can feel the concern of weight loss professionals by knowing “how” to achieve something and not just hearing general details like “don’t eat too much” or “you should exercise.”
Technology and media are great instruments to improve one’s quality of life, but both can also negatively affect health, weight and physical activity levels. A 2010 study shows that 50 years ago, people can burn 1,000-3,000 calories more per week, than what we currently burn. This explains the effect of sedentary lifestyle to weight gain. Experts recommend that public health policies (on education, transport, health and food) like increasing physical activity and increasing health eating awareness programs using media and current leaders can contribute a lot in battling obesity epidemic. But it still the individual’s responsibility to find more ways on how to be physically active throughout the day by formal exercise, less sitting hours and doing more household chores and more movement while at work.