A new research study by the Healthy Nevada Project demonstrated associations between genetics, obesity and experienced childhood trauma. Over 16,000 participants answered a mental health survey in which more than 65% self-reported at least one Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE). ACEs include traumatic and unsafe events endured by children before the age of 18, such as abuse, poverty, food insecurity and poor relationships with primary caregivers. Researchers then cross-referenced participants’ responses with their genetic makeup and body measurements.
According to the study, those who experienced one or more ACEs were one and a half times more likely to become adults with obesity. Participants who experienced four or more were more than twice as likely to suffer from severe obesity. Furthermore, participants’ body mass index (BMI) reacted even more strongly to ACEs when coupled with specific gene mutations, one of which is also strongly related to schizophrenia.
Children and adolescents with obesity are at risk for multiple health problems occurring in youth that become more severe during adulthood, including cardiovascular diseases, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and Type 2 diabetes. Managing a healthy weight, eating a diet rich in nutrients and exercising regularly can help prevent and control multiple chronic diseases and improve quality of life in childhood and adulthood.
Obesity refers to excess body fat rather than weighing too much. Body mass index (BMI) is a tool often used to diagnose obesity. To calculate BMI, multiply body weight in pounds by 703, divide by height in inches and then divide again by height in inches, or use an online calculator.
BMI can provide a reasonable estimate of body fat but does not directly measure body fat, so some people, such as muscular athletes, may have a higher BMI even though they don’t have excess body fat. Many doctors will also measure waist circumference to guide treatment decisions. Weight-related health issues are more common in men with a waist circumference over 40 inches and in women with a waist measurement over 35 inches. The standard BMI categories are below, but keep in mind these are generalized and to visit your doctor if you are concerned about maintaining a healthy weight.
Risk Factors of Obesity
Overall, obesity develops when one consumes more calories than burned through regular daily activities and exercise. Genetic, behavioral, metabolic and hormonal influences can also affect body weight and usually result from contributing factors.
- Family inheritance and influences: Certain genes inherited from parents may affect the amount of fat your body stores and its distribution. Genetics can also affect the efficiency of converting food into energy, regulating appetite and burning calories. In addition to genetic makeup, families also tend to share similar eating and activity habits, which may also contribute to a pattern of obesity.
- Lifestyle choices: Your daily diet and level of physical activity greatly affect your health. Diets with oversized portions, fast food and liquid calories can significantly increase weight gain. Many people often consume empty calories, or calories with no health benefits, through sugary drinks like soda and alcohol. Additionally, according to the CDC, approximately 25% of adults in the United States are not active. A sedentary lifestyle makes consuming more calories than burned every day easier. More than ever, we spend our time looking at computer screens, tablets and phones — all of which are highly associated with weight gain.
- Diseases and medications: In some cases, obesity can stem from a medical cause rather than a lifestyle one, such as Prader-Willi syndrome or Cushing syndrome. Medical problems, such as arthritis, can make it challenging to practice regular physical activity, contributing further to weight gain. Various medications can also play a role, including antidepressants, anti-seizure medications, diabetes medications, antipsychotic medications, steroids and beta-blockers.
- Social and economic issues: It can be difficult to escape obesity for those without access to safe areas for physical activity, healthier foods or ways to prepare meals at home.
- Age: Obesity can be present at any age, but as we get older, we tend to experience more hormonal changes, lower muscle mass and a decrease in metabolism. It becomes even more important to monitor food intake and physical activity as we age to combat excess weight gain.
- Lack of sleep: By not getting the appropriate amount of sleep, your hormones responsible for appetite will shift and cause cravings for foods high in calories and carbohydrates.
- Stress: Cortisol is the body’s primary stress hormone. It manages how your body breaks down carbohydrates, fats and proteins, keeps inflammation down, regulates blood pressure and glucose levels, controls your sleep cycle and energy levels. If you are under prolonged stress, these hormone levels will become unbalanced and you may experience weight gain or digestion problems as a result.
Complications Linked to Obesity
Obesity commonly leads to the development of other potentially serious health conditions, including:
- Heart disease and strokes due to higher blood pressure and abnormal cholesterol levels.
- Type 2 diabetes due to how the body uses insulin to regulate blood sugar levels.
- Certain cancers including uterus, cervix, endometrium, ovary, breast, colon, rectum, esophagus, liver, gallbladder, pancreas, kidney and prostate.
- Digestive issues such as heartburn, gallbladder disease and liver problems.
- Sleep apnea due to more difficulty breathing during sleep.
- Osteoarthritis due to higher stress on weight-bearing joints and inflammation throughout the body.
Five Ways to Combat Childhood Obesity
Nearly one in five children in the United States deals with obesity putting them at a higher risk for asthma, sleep apnea, bone and joint problems, Type 2 diabetes and heart disease. To help keep your children healthy, keep these five things in mind:
- Eat the rainbow: A healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins provides essential nutrients children need to grow and develop. Aim to make half of their plate fruits and vegetables to optimize their health.
- Move more: Children need at least 60 minutes of physical activity each day to maintain strong muscles and cardiovascular fitness.
- Slow down on sugar: Avoid sugary drinks such as soda, juice drinks and flavored milk. Try offering water, plain low-fat milk or 100% juice to keep sugars to less than 10% of their daily calories.
- Reduce screen time: Adults and children spend over seven hours a day being sedentary and often include the use of a phone, tablet, computer or TV. Try setting up a family media plan with set boundaries for screen time.
- Sleep well: Sleep is vital to prevent Type 2 diabetes, obesity, poor mental health and behavior problems. Children ages six to 12 need between nine and 12 hours of uninterrupted sleep per night, while those ages 13-18 need between eight and 10 hours. Overall, proper sleep will lead to better nutrition and lifestyle choices throughout the day.
Local Resources in Kansas City
If you struggle with managing a healthy weight or want to share in your journey with someone, local resources in Kansas City can help.
- KC Bariatric offers weight loss support groups both online and in-person. These sessions include group discussions, guest speakers and special events. They also offer a free clothing exchange where you can donate clothes that no longer fit and exchange as you transition through sizes. Lastly, they offer online educational videos ranging from Q&A, workout videos and advice from dietitians.
- North Kansas City Hospital offers free monthly support group meetings covering various weight loss topics and motivating guest speakers. You will also share experiences and build friendships with others going through the same process.
- Y Weight Loss is a 12-week, small-group program by the Kansas City YMCA to support making lifestyle changes, losing weight and improving overall health.
KC Primary Care offers enhanced health care through regular check-ups and personalized wellness plans to help you achieve your wellness goals. Treatments are built on patient-doctor relationships and education to ensure a highly tailored treatment plan. Concierge medicine is very beneficial to those who are dealing with chronic conditions. To learn more about becoming a member, call 816-479-5222 or contact us here.