Mark Nelson MD, FACC, MPH discusses the obesity epidemic growing in the U.S. and the world.

by Mark Nelson MD, FACC, MPH

If we define health as at least the absence of disease, it is clear that most of us are not healthy. Sadly, the leading causes of death and disease in this country (cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes) are largely preventable and yet only 3% of ‘health care’ expenditures are devoted to prevention. (50% of health care expenditures are devoted to treating the sick.) Most physicians are trained and are more comfortable with fixing rather than healing; more comfortable reacting to disease than they are preserving or creating health and wellness. This perspective and practice is founded upon a ‘sickness’ reimbursement methodology and a training paradigm that is about sickness and disease instead of prevention and wellness.

We are living in the midst of the fifth ‘stage’ of disease worldwide-that of obesity and diabetes. As the obesity epidemic grows in the U.S. and the world, recent studies suggest that our children may not live as long as we will, this being a direct consequence of the obesity epidemic. A recent study from Johns Hopkins University predicts that by 2030, 86% of Americans will be overweight or obese. The Centers for Disease control warns us that one in three children born in the U.S. in the year 2000 will develop type 2 diabetes! One in three teenagers in this country has coronary artery disease!

The toll of this epidemic on our health and the health of our children cannot be overstated. Obesity is now the leading cause of cardiovascular (heart attack and stroke) disease in America and the second leading cause of cancer. Overweight and obesity are associated with higher rates of thyroid, kidney, colon, and esophageal cancers in men and women as well as increased rates of leukemia, lymphoma and multiple myeloma.  In women, we also see higher rates of pancreatic, uterine and breast cancer. In fact, every organ system in the body is adversely effected by obesity with many more ill health effects including asthma, sleep apnea, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, insulin resistance ( the cause of the metabolic syndrome and diabetes mellitus type 2), joint and back problems, and early alzheimer’s disease to name a few.

We live in an obesigenic environment which, combined with learned Habits of Disease propels us and our society towards a future of chronic diseases and fuels a sickness industry that develops a never ending stream of new tests, technology and medications to ‘fix’ but never to heal.

Many of us live in a way that promotes disease instead of health. We are surrounded by high caloric, unhealthy food choices, absurdly large portion sizes, and most Americans typically eat 2 or 3 meals a day (instead of frequent small meals) which often results in increasing hunger and overeating. Most of us (approximately 70%) are sedentary, performing little or no regular physical activity and our children spend far more time in front of the TV or video game than on the playground. One recent study showed that 56% of teenage girls performed little or no regular physical activity!

We have learned and adopted the Habits of Disease; it is time that we learn and adopt Habits of Health. These habits include regular physical activity and healthy eating habits and nutrition.  Many people struggle to lose weight and are often hesitant to ask their health care providers for help. Most health care providers feel they have little to offer besides general advice telling a patient he/she needs to lose weight which of course, the patient already knows but doesn’t know HOW to accomplish this.

We know that 85% of people who ‘diet’ regain their weight within a short time. But 15% of them do not. So what are these individuals doing differently? There are six Habits of Health that make it far more likely for an individual to lose weight and be able to maintain a healthy weight. These habits can be remembered by the acronym BESLIM.  B for breakfast, E for exercise, S for support to practice habits of health, L for frequent Low fat meals, I for an individual plan and M for monitoring one’s weight on a regular basis. These Habits of Health are essential parts of maintaining a health weight and lifestyle.

When individuals are able to achieve a healthy body weight by losing weight by practicing Habits of Health, they can improve their health far more than they will be able to with medications or medical procedures. Most of the adverse health effects of obesity are greatly diminished or resolve completely when obese patients achieve a healthy body weight. Our bodies can heal if we help them heal. We can create health; our bodies can heal!

Dr. Mark Nelson MD, FACC, MPH
Capital Cardiology Associates, Albany NY
Weight loss and Fitness Counseling
Director:  Capital Cardiology Associates Wellness Center Take
Shape for Life Program
cell: 518 573-0608


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