Obesity rates rise more and more each year, impacting over one-third of the American population. Health issues are prevalent in patients with a high BMI, also linking to earlier death. Mental illness can contribute to obesity and obesity can contribute to mental health issues; the two go hand in hand. It is suggested that the body is looked at as a whole, rather than individual units, to see where the domino fell first. The rising dangerous trend in obesity needs careful attention and a solution. With a lack of education, resources, and funds, there is little hope for change. Communities need create resources and advocate for the needs that are not being met.
Obesity in America
Obesity is a condition involving excess body fat, increasing the risk of health complications. Obesity can be influenced from a genetic or behavioral aspect. It can lead to multiple health complications and additional health issues such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and sleep apnea. Eating too much and exercising too little can increase your chances of becoming overweight.
In the past few decades, obesity has rapidly risen in America, becoming the leading cause of preventable death. It is presumed that $150 billion dollars are allocated towards the obesity burden in healthcare costs per year (2010). Obesity is not just an epidemic in America, but it is a global concern. Studies show that chronic medical conditions and early death are linked to elevated BMI. Fast food and conveniently long shelf-life foods have contributed to the epidemic. High trans-fat foods and poor eating habits are not the only contributing factor. American culture has long ago established habits for large portions, processed foods, high sugar content, additives, dyes, preservatives, and diets rich in meat, carbs, and dairy.
Together, mental health and obesity can create a morbid combination that worsens the other. Which came first, the chicken or the egg? The same question can often be asked when it comes to mental health and obesity. Stigmatization and bias are experienced in both mental illness and obesity. The risk for developing the other goes hand in hand. There is also an apparent link in the statistics for obesity and disability (Littleberry 2017). The statistic may be influenced by poor diet and little exercise due to low income from being unable to work.
Viewing each patient as a whole is crucial in making an impact. Rather than focusing on just mental illness or just obesity, the entire picture needs to be examined. Emotional fat and physical fat are equally destructive (Littleberry 2017). Serotonin, a monoamine neurotransmitter in the brain known as 5-hydroxytryptamine, is a contributor to the feeling of well-being and happiness. It is estimated that 90 percent of the body’s serotonin is produced in the digestive tract (Caltech 2015). The human body is fascinating in the way it functions, everything working together to create homeostasis. However, if there is something off or not working properly, there can be a dominos effect. The intestinal tract has its own biosphere with microbes that modulate metabolites, playing a huge role on health and disease. Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Crohn’s disease, Celiac disease, Ulcerative Colitis, and other digestive issues can cause issues with serotonin production.
The emerging field of biological sciences is continuously exploring the link to the digestive biome and serotonin. Though serotonin plays a big role on mental health, there are other nutritional factors that can contribute. Having low vitamin D, for example, can cause symptoms like depression. Vitamin B deficiencies can contribute to anxiety. According to the Mayo Clinic, obesity can increase many health issues, which include gastrointestinal issues.
The highest rates documented from American Medical Association are in 2018, approaching 40% of Americans being obese, with Mississippi and West Virginia being the highest rated. According to the American Diabetes Association, high-income countries are associated with higher obesity rates, whereas in America it is the opposite. In America, if a person has low income, chances are fresh and healthy food options are not affordable. Organic healthy food options are far more expensive than processed nutrient-dense food choices.
Another factor to consider in obesity trends is nature vs. nurture in the sense of obesity in families. While genetics can play a role, so can intermediate family culture. Food choices, traditions, and styles are passed on from parents to their children, and so on. A meal can be considered comfort food because it is comforting; perhaps the meal is associated with a memory of being cared for by a loved one while sick. This begs the question: if a family who historically ate rich in carbs and fats were hypothetically raised to eat fresh healthier meals instead, would their weight have been affected had they been in a different culture, setting or environment? Do we pass on a particular gene or do we pass on the traditional family eating habits and food culture?
There are several ways to work on losing weight. Some are invasive, difficult, and hard work. Losing the extra pounds is well worth the result and will reduce health issues. Bariatric surgery is a procedure performed on patients with obesity by reducing the size of the stomach. This created the feeling of being full. Many high-risk patients are having bariatric surgery in order to lose weight. Mental health counseling is a great way to dive into what may be causing a person to over-eat or turn to food to cope. Some cases of obesity can be linked to trauma. Lifestyle change is an important part of reducing BMI, even if other methods are used to treat obesity. Lifestyle changes can keep the weight off and encourage healthier behavior long-term. Changing old habits that may have contributed to gaining weight is also important for the future generations, as habits can be learned and passed on.
It is crucial that the numbers and rates of obesity do not continue to rise, but lower. If Americans take a grassroots approach to changing the rising obesity risk, there may be more hope. Communities can help by offering fresh, healthier foods at food pantries. Crowd sourcing and funding could benefit low-income families by creating local programs that offer discounted or free fresh foods. Local community gardens with fresh produce would be a great community service or volunteer program that also provides families fresh produce. The community could also offer free healthy cooking classes and education on diet and lifestyle modification. Free local exercise programs should be offered to people of all ages to keep the community active and fit. Many gyms and fitness programs are unaffordable, even to the middle-class families.
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