Spend just a few minutes researching obesity statistics, and it’s easy to see why so many health professionals are alarmed about the number of people who are overweight or obese.
For example, according to a new report from the Trust for America’s Health and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, by 2030, 58.8 percent of adults in Arizona are predicted to be obese.
The report also discusses the health issues that can result from these statistics. For example, if people throughout Arizona don’t do anything to change their current rate of gaining weight by 2032, obesity could contribute to more than 725,000 new cases of type 2 diabetes, more than 1.5 million new cases of coronary heart disease and stroke, and more than 1.4 million new cases of hypertension.
Kathleen Dowler, director of community integration at Chandler Regional Medical Center, is well-aware of the grim statistics and predictions regarding obesity.
What she finds to be ironic, she said, is that many of the studies and reports imply that obesity is just now becoming a problem throughout Arizona.
“In reality, we have had this problem for some time; now it’s just getting worse,” she said.
“The statistics show that there is an increase in obesity in our society, but it has been that way for a while.”
Now that obesity is reaching what Dowler refers to as a “crisis point,” she said it is finally becoming a topic that is being regarded more seriously.
“We as a society and as health care professionals need to more aggressively and efficiently address the causes and the risk factors of obesity as a means to lower these rates. We also need to provide more resources in order to do this.”
People become obese for a variety of reasons, Dowler said, including eating more unhealthy foods full of empty calories, a lack of physical activity, socioeconomic status and social trends like the marketing of fast food.
“We are not just eating fresh food anymore but food that is processed and packed with hormones, sugar and chemicals. A lot of this is because of convenience—before, people would go to the store and get fresh food, but now so much of it is packaged and processed because it is so quick and easy but not necessarily nutritious.”
While very few people choose to become obese, Dowler said, when they decide to lose the weight, it is important that they do so under medical supervision.
“They should work with a doctor or a nutritionist—someone who is a medical expert,” she said.
“There may be physical or medical reasons why the person is obese and a doctor can help rule those out. The doctor can also order lab work to make sure the person is healthy, and if other issues like high blood pressure or diabetes are discovered, they can come up with a plan that is appropriate for the patient.”
Another key aspect to successfully losing weight, Dowler said, is having support from friends and family.
“People need confidence in order to have success, and having family support can help give them the self-esteem they need to do this. Plus, if the family is working together on a healthy diet and fitness program, it will be healthier for everyone and easier to keep consistent with the new routines.”
Although a person may need to shed a significant number of pounds in order to lower his or her Body Mass Index score to a normal weight, Dowler said people should not let this discourage them from getting started. Even relatively small amounts of weight loss can have a positive impact on overall health, she said.
“Pick shorter, smaller goals, like maybe 10 pounds at a time. Then reward yourself when you make them,” she said.
“I’ve seen people who have lost 10 or 15 pounds and were able to cut back on or go off of their blood pressure medications. Or people with type 2 diabetes who lost a small amount of weight and were able to switch from insulin shots to oral medication or maybe none at all.”
While Dowler said doctors historically have not always addressed the topic of obesity with their patients, due in part to not having enough training or resources, the physicians at Chandler Regional Medical Center are attempting to address the issue more efficiently.
“We have registered dieticians who see patients, and if we have patients who come in with diabetes or heart disease, they can speak with the dieticians, who will also provide outpatient appointments for them. They can come back and see them, and the dieticians can help them with a plan.”
A coming redesign of Chandler Regional’s website will also result in more information on weight loss being available 24 hours a day, Dowler said.
For people who are ready to lose weight, Dowler said they need to remember that they did not gain it all overnight, so they need to be patient about how quickly they can lose it.
“It is not a competition; it is a self-journey to a happier, more enriching life.”