The Overweight-obesity quagmire
Longest African silent killer series (Part 3)
By Edema Tosan
Overweight –obesity has clearly come to be a most notable and quite challenging health condition for many Africans and African-originating people. And it is a challenge that has to be properly understood, situated and addressed. And this we shall proceed to do.
By now anyone who has read the previous parts of this op-ed realizes that prophylactic practices are key to fighting these conditions at their core. Previous approaches like mitigation, derailment, and stop gaps e.t.c are of limited scope and only promise temporary results. This condition as we already established has several tributaries and can be illusive and never stagnant (moving target). Overweight-obesity is our next de-factor condition to address. These de-factor conditions manifest themselves in the manner of the 1000 pounds gorilla in the room. Simplified, overweight-obesity factors are much more comprehensive to digest than their analytical statistics; especially with the fluidly dynamic nature of Overweight-obesity. Summation of how a young healthy child starts to get overweight and then obese is critical and must attain transparency; other factors compounding this overall conditions includes socioeconomic, environmental, political, religious, regional, genetic/hereditary, ecological, agricultural and global warming factors. These other factors deserve more attention to fully comprehend this condition.
One basic distinction of overweight-obesity is the socioeconomic factor exuding immense gravity on low-income and underprivileged societies. The poorer you are the more likely you are to be overweight-obese. But being poor does not equate to being overweight and obese. Some might argue that people have choices and most underprivileged/low income people make wrong choices. This bias is so ingrained in our current societal inequality DNA; perpetrated by the modern world’s steroidal machines of profit and greed. It’s hard to buy/produce healthy food when you don’t have enough money to pay your bills and gas up your vehicle for work. This human designed inequality is clearly a booster for humanity’s downward spiraling. Our religious concept of ” being thy brother’s keeper ” is now almost obsolete”.
They are different types/levels of overweight and obesity with some similarities too. Each of the above has certain medical scientific criteria. For the purpose of moving things along, redefining overweight and obesity is warranted for this and future eras going forward. Using old, stationary criterion to define a moving target is nonsensical. Both overweight and obesity are sometimes interchangeable words that really require separation. The simple parallel constant is one has to be overweight to be obese.
Overweight is simply extra bodily weight than normal (desired weight); relative to calculation base on body height and weight. Simply put; one pound over ideal body weight is overweight. Coincidentally; that extra pound doesn’t necessarily have to come from fat/adipose, it can be from water, muscle, e.t.c. Obesity on the other hand is when your body continues to retain excess pounds (mostly fat/adipose) in the 20% or more than you body needs or body BMI greater than 29. The core of Obesity is that it’s based on man-made abnormal accumulative conditions indirectly driven by prolong unchecked bad habits.
Overweight and Obesity nature are transitional and habitual, majority of people are not born obese. Society views overweight-obesity as a linear entity; ” that child used to be healthy, now he/she is overweight and obese”, “you are fat or thin”, “you are healthy or sick”. The above two reference points seldom neglect the vast in-between. Obesity has some precursor such as excessive caloric intact, genetic/hereditary, depreciating/altering metabolism, and compromised homeostasis, sleep deprivation, different forms of bodily abuses, e.t.c.
Obesity has three distinct stages and the key to eradicating Obesity is to place more emphasis on the in-between stage. But correlations from the beginning and complication stages must be incorporated. Shining light on the in-between stage should be the new beacon.
The beginning stage is always shielded by children usually guaranteed natural high metabolism. This stage starts at birth until early adulthood (20-25yrs). At the end of this stage, the human metabolic rate/process begin to slow down naturally. The slow down process can be expedited by other incidence of abnormal interference such as socioeconomic, poverty, genetic/hereditary, excessive caloric, ignorance and arrogance, tribalism, pre-existing conditions, political and religious factors.
The complication stage (around 40-45 years) is the stage that draws most societal negative connotations. At this stage, people’s physical appearance tell their story, this stage also has a negative stigma, people laugh at fat people, look at fat people differently, shame fat people e.t.c. At this stage people’s overall health is altered and compromised with other co-morbidity situations such as obstructive sleep apnea, joint pain, diabetes, peripheral vascular diseases, and cardiovascular diseases. People usually take medications to address some of the co-morbidity factors.
Comprehending the in-between stage ( around 25-40 years) is key to correcting Obesity. This stage is slow like an ambulating turtle; but carries the most accumulative punches over a period of time. It takes several years of bad habit, abuse and neglect to get overweight and then obese; unless if you have certain OBESITY GENE. Once again Obesity has lots of abnormal tentacles feeding into its core. Reversing/correcting this trend is priceless for one’s overall health and life span.
To fully comprehend this in-between stage, I like to indulge you, sort of, in Africa’s longest folk tradition: story-telling. African communities are known for night time family and neighbors gathering story telling with wisdom being transferred from one generation to another by our elders with the idea to learn from our past and not to fall to reoccurring hindrances.
Some other notable hindrances are there since humans are not hibernating animal (bears) by nature or nurture; so accumulating excess calories (within a period ) which is then converted to extra fat/adipose is counterproductive. The African cultural mentality of elevating BIG as symbol of well fed is also a farce. This belief needs to be extinguished immediately. For example; In-laws (families) accusing wives of starving their son (husbands) if not well fed. For the record “pot belly” is not sexy. To be clear; excess fat in a human body is a curse and a disease. Neither are humans otters who are known to consume a fifth of their body daily weight/mass to survive due to their extreme and balanced high metabolism.
So let us go to our folktale. Once upon a time, a child called Kodo lived in a village called Aniwere. Kodo has 6 other siblings and his parents are Musa and Dabo. The village’s population is 800-1000 people and is made up of many families. Kodo is the 3rd child and 1st male of his family. On the night Kodo was born, some villagers believed that the sky stood still until Kodo’s first cries; a sign of a bright future ahead for Kodo. Musa was the breadwinner of the family and also supplements Kodo’s grand- parents daily. Musa’s other siblings are non-existent, hence Kodo’s grandparents live with Kodo’s family.
From birth, Kodo was always energetic, enigmatic and halcyon. Kodo is like most other kids, he gets chubby and then slims down and grows in height. Around Kodo’s 12th birthday, his world unraveled. Kodo was taken out of school, back home because Musa was found decapitated in his fishery canoe after a suspected attack by people from a rival community. Dabo; who has always been a home maker, with barely middle school academic level capacity, now has full responsibility to take care of Kodo’s grandparents and her seven children.
Within 1-2 years of Musa passing away Kodo dropped out of school to continue running the family’s fisheries business full time so as to better help support/supplement the family income. Kodo’s older female siblings are forbidden by tradition to be fishermen. By the time Kodo started to get a handle of the family business he was about age 16-20. But he now spends over 6-10 hours idle on fishery canoe daily and barely sleeps for seven hours a day.
Kodo’s average day is as follows: he wakes up at 2am to get to the crabs and crayfish cages to prevent pirates from getting to his catch of the day. Next, he sets up fish hook lines of about 1-2mile from 3am to 4am in the canoe, and retrieves other lines and catches from 4am to 6am before getting his haul to the morning market at 7am for Dabo to sell. Kodo then returns to the river and repeats about all of the earlier processes from 8am-11am ahead of the noon market sells.
How does all this impact on him: Kodo’s height and weight from 8 to 12years old were as follow; (8 year-70 pounds, 4 feet 2 inches, 10 year- 80 pounds, 4 feet 6 inches, 12 year-90 pounds, 5 feet 3inches).
At age 20 Kodo was 5 feet 6 inches tall and weighed 155 pounds, at 25 kodo was 5 feet 8 inches, 215 pounds, and at 35, Kodo now weighs 275 pounds and with no further gain in height. He had become obese.
The mathematical science of how Kodo got obese is very simple. If we agree to a certain understanding; Kodo was a healthy child until his dad died. Kodo’s education was stunted due to hardship, Kodo’s previous daily school active life was transform to sedentary occupation/lifestyle, Kodo also had to take over the burden of his family as main income provider on his adolescent shoulder. We all can comprehend this is a daunting task for even an adult needless a growing child.
To understand better how Kodo got overweight and then obese we need to peel back to the core like an onion. Shortly after Kodo’s hardship started, Kodo’s weight gain can be correlated to arithmetic progression. For example, one plus one equals two, two plus one now equals three. Around age 20, Kodo’s weight gain pattern changes to geometrical progression; which translates two to the power of one equals two, but two to the power of two is 4 and two to the power of 3 is 8.
Geometrical progression is a possible outcome when metabolism slows down because more fat/adipose is stored in body. We sometimes refer to this as more meat on the bone, more cushion/padding/love handle. Others factors that make this geometrical progression possible are sedentary lifestyle, poor diet habits, pre-existing health conditions, socio-economics, hardship, pollution, global warming, genetic/hereditary conditions and diseases e.
Let’s surmise; Kodo probably started gaining .5 to 1.0 pound (not fat) weekly unchecked from age 14 to age 20; this weight pattern then translates to additional 25-50 pounds (not fat) annually for 6yrs (150-300 pounds) over recommended body weight. Medical weight science journal and experts suggest kodo is likely retaining additional .2 to .4 pounds ( when converted to fat/adipose) of the above .5-1.0 pounds weekly weight gain. Depending on kodo healthy daily activities and metabolism rate, each extra pound is converted into bodily fat/adipose as body reserves. This conversion also means kodo is gaining additional 5-10 pounds (of fat/adipose) than normal annually projecting into 6yrs (30-60 pounds of fat/adipose). In conjecture from the above; the connection how kodo got to 200-275 pounds is no mystery, it’s a matter of simple logic, arithmetic and common sense. Imaging the projection if Kodo was gaining 1-2 pounds of fat/adipose weekly unchecked; then every other number that follows becomes doubled and Kodo will gain 60-120 pounds of fat/adipose within the same time frame.
If the above summation and calculation is too hard to digest, a layman or common sense approach to the above summation is as follows. Between ages 8-14, Kodo was probably consuming 4000-6000 calories daily, with an active-metabolic balance lifestyle kodo is likely getting rid of 50% or more of consume daily calories; which in turns translate to 0.1-0.2 pounds weekly net weight gain. But after Kodo’s hardship transformation from 14-20 years with no change or increase daily calories intake with sedentary lifestyle and depreciative metabolism; Kodo is now accumulating more body fat/adipose and gaining weight-trending obesity if unchecked. The excess accumulated calories from the above represent 0.25-0.5 pounds ( not fat) additional weekly weight gain; which in turns add up to additional 5-10 pounds annually. The above then accounts for Kodo’s 60 pounds gain from age 12 to age 20.
Like we already established this overweight -obesity is a turtle process that can be fixed. A simple solution is regular and consistent weekly or biweekly weight check at minimum and counter measures should be in place to address weight gain trends. For example if you find yourself gaining one pound weekly for two-three consecutive weeks; then increasing your activities, cutting down current 3000-5000 daily calories intake to under 3000cal next 2 consecutive weeks is a step in the right direction. Doing this again and again as needed can curtail this runaway train and reverse some of overweight-obesity damages. Doing nothing of course is Armageddon. Waiting too long to do something is like applying a band aid to an open bleeding wound and wondering why the “damn” wound is not healing.
Another simple fix to this problem is practicing moderation (habits) in our daily life. Health is more quality than quantity; medical science has established moderate daily salt intake curtails cardiovascular complications. Practicing not to exceed 2000-3000 calories daily is optimal. Making immediate reflective (moderation) changes on week by week or biweekly bases to curtail weight fluctuations has added benefits to one’s life. Obesity; if unmanaged can further cause diabetes, peripheral vascular diseases, poor circulation, kidney diseases, slow wound healing and other cardiovascular critical condition/complication.
As an obese person myself (in the last 5-10 years of life in my forties), I see a personal trainer 1-2 times a week, spend additional 90 minutes at the gym 4-5xweek, 70-80% compliant with recommended healthy daily diet, sleep 7-9 hours daily and 1-2 hours naps 4-5days weekly; yet I am still obese and the answer I got from physicians and trainers is I have lots of stubborn FAT. Like is the case with Oprah Winfrey and several others, this stubborn FAT which usually accumulates mostly at the in-between stages if unchecked defines our future because getting rid of it is daunting and life changing. Oprah, others and I wish someone could have made us comprehend the curse and disease of overweight and obesity, practice good healthy behavior when our metabolism was slowing down (the in-between stage) to correct or mitigate our current overweight and subsequently obese situations.
Part 4 of this op-ed series will explore water purification and resources. A simple experimental illustrative approach will be introduced to comprehend how vital water purification is to this subject. Looking at different water sources, we shall expand the discussion to introduce the connections between water and atherosclerosis/silent killer diseases.