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Top 5 Myths About Obesity

One in three adults in the U.S. is obese – a condition that puts people at risk for chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease and certain cancers. Obesity costs the health care system $147 billion each year.

Obesity is defined according to how a person’s weight relates to their height through the body mass index (BMI) measurement. A person with a BMI of 30 or higher is obese. A person with a BMI from 25 to 29.9 is overweight. However, the BMI system does not consider the ratio between excess fat, muscle or bone mass on a person, or the distribution of fat on a person’s body.

Obesity results from a combination of eating and drinking too many calories, with a lack of adequate physical activity, though the causes are deeper rooted.

The rate of obese adults in Michigan is the tenth-highest in the U.S. Studies have shown that people with a higher BMI tend to have more body fat and are more at risk for future health issues, including Type 2 diabetes, hypertension, stroke, coronary heart disease, abnormal periods and infertility.

Here are some common myths about obesity:

MYTH #1: Obesity is caused by a lack of physical activity and unhealthy eating.

FACT: While the weight gain that leads to obesity is attributed to consuming more calories than a person is expending through physical activity, research shows that the root cause of obesity is more complicated.

While an unhealthy diet and a sedentary lifestyle are the “big two” contributing factors to obesity, that approach ignores why those behaviors are occurring in the first place.

Not getting enough sleep, psychological stress, endocrine disruptors, medications, chronic pain, fatigue, intrauterine and intergenerational effects all contribute to obesity.

MYTH #2: If you’re obese, you can’t control your eating.

FACT: Eating too much isn’t just a matter of self-control; there are environmental factors that have significant impacts on your mental state and your approach to food.

If you are preoccupied or overwhelmed with too much information, research has shown that you are more likely to make unhealthy food choices.

Obesity is usually attributed to eating too much junk food and consuming portions that are too large. The conscious and subconscious drivers to those actions are also the culprits.

MYTH #3: Lack of access to fresh fruits and vegetables is behind the obesity epidemic.

FACT: While 39.6% of Americans are obese, fewer than 5% of Americans live in “food deserts” as defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Obesity is connected more to the choices we make in stores – where “junk” food is marketed to consumers at every turn – than access to fresh food.

Rather than buying lots of cheap foods lower in nutrients, there are benefits to substituting slightly more expensive foods that are higher in quality and nutrition.

MYTH #4: Obesity runs in my family, so I will be obese.

FACT: There are genetic factors when it comes to obesity. However, just because traits are inherited doesn’t mean you will become obese. Moderate changes to your surroundings and lifestyle can help you lower your weight and reduce your risk of obesity.

Additionally, parents of children who are obese can help them by intervening with programs at home. When parents are involved in promoting physical activity and healthy eating, children are more likely to have success. Remember children are always watching adults in their lives, being a good example for them teaches them how to live a healthier and happier life, while improving their relationship with food and their bodies.

MYTH #5: Anyone can lose weight if they put their mind to it.

FACT: One size does not fit all when it comes to weight loss. The physical results from a weight loss program will differ from person to person, even if both are exerting the same amount of effort.

The success of a weight loss program should not only be measured in pounds lost – but in less tangible increments like improved quality of life, greater self-esteem, higher levels of energy, improved health and preventing further weight gain.

Regardless of how much you weigh or how much weight you lose, exercising and improving your fitness level is good for your health.

Obesity is not a condition that has a simple fix; as many health agencies and research institutions are working with community organizations across the country on education campaigns. Creating environments that support healthy lifestyles and behaviors is a key piece to ensuring the success of obesity prevention efforts in the future.

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan has committed to helping partner organizations combat the epidemic of obesity. In 2009, Blue Cross started a public-private partnership called Building Healthy Communities to address obesity rates among children. Funded in part by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, the program offers schools a variety of wellness programs to help improve students’ health.

Additionally, 91 elementary schools in Michigan have received salad bars through a partnership between Blue Cross and the United Fresh Start Foundation.

Blue Cross also provides grants to organizations like Kids’ Food Basket in West Michigan, whose mission is nourishing children and empowering them to make healthy choices.

On an individual level, achieving and keeping a healthy weight takes committing to a lifestyle change. Understanding your BMI, replacing high-calorie foods with more fruits and vegetables, eliminating pop from your diet, consuming in moderation, being physically active and teaching children how to establish healthy behaviors are the best measures to combat obesity.

This article is the fourth in a year-long series explaining how to manage chronic conditions that can be costly for families and the health care system. For more information about the series, click here 

This content has been reviewed and approved by Grace Derocha, registered dietitian, certified diabetes educator and certified health coach at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan.

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Photo credit: Ridofranz

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