Obesity is in the news. It is the focus of shows for television and the subject of many talk shows. Magazine covers illustrate the problem and it’s not pretty. The World Health Organization considers obesity a global epidemic and a serious health problem. Obesity is now reported to be the second leading cause of a preventable death after smoking. It is spreading at an alarming rate, not only in industrialized countries but also in developing countries where it actually coexists with malnutrition.
In fact, current trends show that obesity is estimated to affect 18% of the global population; this is an increase of 50% over the past seven years. This figure translates to approximately 300 million obese adults worldwide and many more are overweight. What are the differences between obese and overweight? The terms are often used interchangeably but there are marked differences between the two. Obesity refers to excess body fat while overweight refers to excess weight for height which may come from muscle, bone fat or water.
The most alarming statistic is that the World Health Organization estimates that about 22 million children under five years old are overweight. Obesity among children has reached epidemic proportions. This is a real concern since this figure puts them at risk for cardiovascular disease, hypertension and diabetes later in life. Overweight children are more likely to become overweight adults and to experience chronic health problems that are associated with adult obesity.
The current epidemic of obesity cannot be explained by genetics or a failure in personal discipline or a psychological upbringing. It is primarily associated with the modern way of life that promotes excessive food intake and discourages physical activity. A new study that appears in the journal Pediatrics suggests that pre-school age children are likely to have a lower risk of obesity if the regularly engage in one or more of three specific household routines: eating dinner as a family at least six nights a week, getting at least ten hours of sleep and limiting their weekday television viewing to two hours a day.
What are the implications for nurses? Nurses have an ideal opportunity to promote healthy activities in order to reduce the risks of being overweight or obese. For effective prevention treatment, nurses should consider the psychosocial and cultural dynamics that affect health behaviors as well as patient readiness and motivation to change. Nurses are encouraged to promote healthy family lifestyle patterns to help reduce the risk of obesity at all stages of human development.