Monday, May 14, 2012

The Skinny on Obesity: Part 1

I just finished watching Part 1 of HBO's docu-series "The Weight of the Nation".  Today's episode focused on the consequences of obesity and shared a bevy of startling and humbling facts.

They begin in Louisiana where experts talk about the Bogalusa Heart Study, an ongoing project on children's health that began in the late 1970s.  Blood tests and measurements of each child were recorded, and autopsies performed on children who died of accidental or non-cardiac causes.  They found that 20% of children autopsied already had plaque in their arteries leading doctors to deduce that heart disease begins in childhood.

In the 1970s, 5% of children were overweight.  That number has ballooned to almost 33% now.  In fact, a child born in 2000 or later has a 1 in 3 chance of developing diabetes.  If that child is African American or Latino, that number is 1 in 2.  This rapid increase in childhood obesity rates began in the 1980s, but the documentary fails to mention what happened to prompt this spike.  Change in family dynamics with more mother's going to work?  Prevalence of fast food?  Death of farms?  What happened?  I hope they cover that in a later episode.

Steering away from the macabre, they go on to list the characteristics of Ideal Cardiovascular Health:

  1. Optimal cholesterol
  2. Normal blood pressure
  3. No diabetes
  4. Lean BMI
  5. Non-smoker
  6. Physically active
  7. Healthy diet
According to this documentary, less than 1% of all Americans meet this criteria.  In fact, there is a growing need for liver transplants nowadays.  At one time, hepatitis was the leading cause for a transplant.  Now, a new disease has sprung up and is quickly becoming the #1 liver killer: cryptogenic cirrhosis. Basically, fat cells get stuck between liver cells and harden, stiffening the organ and reducing, if not altogether preventing, functionality.  38% of obese children have this disease.  That's about 1 in 6 kids.

But the liver is a strong organ and within only 48 hours of changing your diet, you can improve your liver/fat content by about 25%.

"It just takes a little bit of weight..."
- Mary Hanley

Diabetes is synonymous with high blood sugar and comes in two forms: Type 1, formerly known as juvenile diabetes, occurs when a person is insulin deficient-- their body doesn't produce enough insulin; Type 2, also known as adult onset, occurs when a person becomes resistant to their own insulin.  This is a serious disease with dire consequences.  I watched my own grandfather weaken from every dialysis appointment.  His sister had several amputations because of her diabetes.  Peripheral neuropathy, kidney failure, sensitivity to infection: this is a disease that will not give up until you do.  And then it's too late.  Once you have diabetes, you have it for life.  You're never cured of it.

Much the same way, obesity leads to cardiovascular disease, kidney disease, gall bladder and liver disease, asthma, high blood pressure, stroke, cancer, blindness, dementia, etc.  The list goes on and on.  It is imperative that we fix our eating habits today, this moment.  The U.S spends $150 billion on obesity-related illnesses.  Half of that is paid with public funds.  Think of the money we could save if we just picked an apple over an apple turnover, a carrot instead of carrot cake.  We've made so many advances in medicine just to eat ourselves into new disease.

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