Obesity Is Serious

From my Healthy Living column in Moncton’s Times & Transcript.

In New Brunswick, one out of three children is overweight or obese. This makes us one of the provinces most touched by obesity. We are behind only by Newfoundland and Labrador in terms of obesity rate.

We need to be concerned. Obesity is a disease and needs to be addressed and treated as such. This point was clearly conveyed by Dr. Kamba during my interview with him.

I was fortunate to have the opportunity to speak with Dr. Kamba earlier this week about the childhood obesity problem in New Brunswick. Dr. Kamba is a pediatrician who resides and practices medicine in Bathurst, New Brunswick. He became interested in the obesity problem while in France and as a result, returned to university to complete a diploma of obesity studies.

During my interview with him, I asked Dr. Kamba to address several popular beliefs about obesity. One of those beliefs was the belief that obesity is caused by genetics. Who hasn’t heard someone say, “I’m a bit too heavy, but I live the same type of lifestyle as my normal-weight friends do, so it must be my genes.”?

Dr. Kamba says that some people’s genes may favor obesity more than other people’s genes, but that genes are nevertheless not the cause of obesity. As he points out, “20 years ago, not one three-year-old child in Canada was obese. Now, those numbers have changed. Our genes are the same as they were 20 years ago; our intake of rich foods and our activity levels have changed.”

Another common belief, this one harmful, is that obesity is not a serious problem. People have a tendency to think that having a healthy weight is the beauty concern; it’s not. Dr. Kamba says patients need to know that doctors who are concerned about people’s weight are concerned because of the health problems extra weight brings and not because of beauty problems. He remarks, “If obesity was a beauty concern, insurance companies wouldn’t calculate BMI.”

People sometimes feel embarrassed about their weight or feel that their doctor has no business knowing about their weight. They think, “I’m overweight, but I’m healthy, so I don’t need to see a doctor.” Dr. Kamba remarks that obesity can lead to other diseases, including cardiovascular disease and type II diabetes, which makes it a much more important reason to visit the doctor than the coughs and sniffles most people don’t hesitate to consult their doctor about.

However, while Dr. Kamba says that people should visit their doctor about surplus weight, he realizes that they still may not receive the care they need. Obesity is a disease that requires comprehensive and long-term care, care which is currently not addressed by the New Brunswick health care system.

“Our society needs to take responsibility and implement comprehensive programs to address obesity.” This is crucial, Dr. Kamba says, since no healthcare system in the world can support the financial strain of obesity.

Dr. Kamba recommends targeting two groups: obese/overweight people by allowing them to access proper medical treatment and healthy weight people by encouraging them to make nutrition and fitness choices that will prevent future obesity.

He says special emphasis needs to be put on children. “Once taken in charge,, 75% of obese/overweight children under 15 years of age will return to a normal weight while only 30% of obese/overweight children over 15 years of age will return to a normal weight.” Dr. Kamba explains that once the body is accustomed to extra weight, it will produce hormones to help it maintain that weight. “This,” he continues, “is what makes dieting dangerous. Diets can trigger maintenance hormones that may result in the dieter weighing more than he did to begin with.”

Keeping a surplus of weight for several years can be dangerous. Many of today’s obese adults became obese as adults.However, we obese adults of tomorrow will have been obese since childhood. Since these people will have carried around extra weight for more years then today’s obese adults, they will have more health complications and they will have them at younger ages.

Obesity is a modern day public health issue; one that won’t be going away anytime soon. This is the first time in history that children have shorter life expectancies than their parents. Our society, our government, and our healthcare system needs to amplify existing efforts and take action.


Originally published in the Times & Transcript on June 5th, 2010.


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