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Take Heart Articles
Is Obesity the New National Epidemic?
An estimated 129 million Americans, or 64 percent of the population, are overweight or obese. Between 1991 and 2000, obesity among American adults increased 60 percent. And, rates have doubled in children over the past 20 years. If these trends continue, obesity could overtake smoking as the nation’s leading cause of preventable death.

“Americans need to understand that obesity is unnecessarily taking lives,” says Palmetto Health Richland family practice physician Dr. Patricia Witherspoon. “Obesity, commonly defined as being more than 20 percentover one’s ideal body weight, is a risk factor for heart disease. Excess weight puts significant strain on the heart and worsens other heart disease risk factors such as diabetes.

“People who have excess body fat are more likely to develop heart disease even if they have no other risk factors,” she says. “Obesity raises blood pressure, raises blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels, lowers ‘good’ HDL cholesterol, and can induce diabetes.”

Not only does obesity indirectly contribute to heart disease, it also causes unhealthy changes in the heart itself. The heart’s left ventricle is responsible for pumping oxygen-rich blood from the heart to the rest of the body. As the heart struggles to compensate for an obese person’s extra body mass through which it must circulate blood, the left ventricle can become enlarged. This could develop into a potentially fatal condition.

Obesity also can lead to heart failure, a condition in which the heart is no longer able to pump enough blood to meet the body’s demand.

Not everyone struggles with weight. Weight gain occurs differently in men and women. For women, the greatest weight gain is in the younger age groups. Men tend to be obese later in life. Genetics also seem to play a role in obesity. Humans carry dozens of genes that are directly related to body size. But, even if someone is predisposed to obesity, it does not mean that he or she has to become obese.

Environment seems to play a more dominant role in obesity. Overeating and physical inactivity often are habits developed early in life within the family setting.

“Obesity is the normal physiological response to an environment in which energy intake, meaning food, exceeds energy output through exercise,” Witherspoon says. “Fortunately, research shows that both the direct and indirect effects of obesity on heart disease are minimized or eliminated altogether if a healthy weight is achieved and maintained.

“The best way to combat obesity is by selecting the right foods to eat. A healthy, low-saturated fat diet coupled with regular exercise is a great place to start. There are more aggressive treatments for obesity such as medication and surgery. Fortunately, for most people, weight gain can be prevented or controlled through diet and exercise.

With a physician’s help, determine your healthy weight. Then, under the supervision of your healthcare professional, determine the best, safest way to take the steps needed to reach and maintain a healthy weight.”

Physical activity always is a great way to maintain a healthy weight and improve heart health. Palmetto Health Richland offers exercise options for any age through the Healthy Aging Program Initiative, HAPI. Call 434-1666 for more information.