How to Prevent Obesity

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Obesity is a global health epidemic with more than 650 million people affected worldwide, according to the World Health Organization 2016 statistics. The disease is characterized by excessive body fat and due to an imbalance of energy consumed to calories expended.

Like many chronic conditions, obesity is preventable with a healthy lifestyle. The strategies for prevention are also strategies for treatment if you are already overweight or obese.

Diet

Obesity can be prevented by following basic principles of healthy eating. Here are simple changes you can make to your eating habits that will help you lose weight and prevent obesity.

  • Eat Five a Day. Focus on eating at least five to seven servings of whole fruits and vegetables every day. Fruits and vegetables constitute low-calorie foods. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there is convincing evidence that eating fruits and vegetables decreases the risk of obesity. They contain higher amounts of dietary fiber and other nutrients, they are associated with a lower risk for diabetes and insulin resistance. For the same reasons, they also make people feel full with fewer calories, thus helping to prevent weight gain.
  • Avoid Proceed Food. Highly processed foods, like white bread and many boxed snack foods, are a common source of empty calories, and those calories can add up quickly. What's more, a 2019 study published in Cell Metabolism found, calorie for calorie, processed foods leads to weight gain while unprocessed foods promote weight loss.
  • Reduce Sugar Consumption. It is important to keep your intake of added sugars low. The American Heart Association recommends that the intake of added sugar not exceed 6 teaspoons daily for women and 9 teaspoons daily for men. Major sources of added sugar to avoid include sugary beverages, including sodas and energy or sports drinks; grain desserts like pies, cookies, and cakes; fruit drinks (which are seldom 100 percent fruit juice); candy; and dairy desserts like ice cream.
  • Limit Artificial Sweeteners. Artificial sweeteners are to be avoided, as those have been linked to obesity and diabetes. If you feel you must use a sweetener, opt for a small amount of honey, which is a natural alternative and has been shown to have antimicrobial properties.
  • Skip Saturated Fats. A 2018 study published in the journal Biomedica shows that eating a foods high in saturated fat contributes to obesity. Focus instead on sources of healthy fats (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats), like avocados, olive oil, and tree nuts.
  • Sip Wisely. Drink more water and eliminate all sugared beverages from your diet. Make water your go-to beverage; unsweetened tea and coffee are fine, too. Avoid energy drinks or sports drinks, which not only contain an overwhelming amount of added sugar, but have been shown (in the case of energy drinks) to pose potential dangers to the cardiovascular system.
  • Cook at Home. Studies that have looked at the frequency of home meal preparation have found that both men and women who prepared meals at home were less likely to gain weight. They were also less likely to develop type 2 diabetes.
  • Try a Plant-Based Diet. Eating a plant-based diet has been associated with greater overall health and much lower rates of obesity. To achieve this, fill your plate with whole vegetables and fruits at every meal. For snacks, eat unsalted nuts such as almonds, cashews, walnuts, and pistachios (all associated with heart health). Go easy (or eliminate altogether) protein sources that are heavy in saturated fats, such as red meat and dairy.

Exercise

Most national and international guidelines recommend that the average adult get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity per week. That means at least 30 minutes per day for 5 days of the week.

The best exercise for maintaining a healthy weight is brisk walking, according to a 2015 analysis of data from the Health Surveys from England.

Researchers found individuals who walk at a brisk or fast pace are more likely to have a lower weight, lower body-mass index (BMI), and lower waist circumference compared to individuals doing other activities. 

In addition, experts recommend keeping active throughout the day, whether by using a standing desk, taking frequent stretch breaks, or finding ways to work in walking meetings or other ways to walk throughout your day.

Relax

Chronic stress raises levels of the stress hormone cortisol and leads to weight gain. It can also result in poor dietary choices, as cortisol and other stress hormones can increase “carb cravings,” and being under a lot of stress can make it difficult to exercise good judgment and willpower.

Resist the urge to turn to alcohol, drugs, or other risky behaviors as a means of coping with stress. Instead, there are several healthy ways to beat stress.

Go for a daily walk, engage in regular yoga, tai chi, or meditation practice, listen to music you love, or get a dog.

Studies show having a pet can lower blood pressure and pets, especially dogs, can increase your level of physical activity and can help you stave off weight gain.

Sleep

The role of sleep in overall well-being cannot be overstated. This extends to the goal of preventing obesity, too. Experts recommend getting seven to nine hours of uninterrupted sleep per night.

Studies have linked later bedtimes to weight gain over time. One study of nearly 3,500 adolescents who were followed between 1994 and 2009 in the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health looked at how bedtimes affected body mass index (BMI) over time.

The study authors found that a “later average bedtime during the workweek, in hours, from adolescence to adulthood was associated with an increase in BMI over time.”

In another study, researchers found that late bedtimes, and therefore less nightly sleep, for 4-year-old and 5-year-old children resulted in a greater likelihood of obesity over time.

Specifically, the researchers found that the odds of becoming obese were higher for children who slept less than about 9.5 hours per night, as well as for children who went to bed at 9 p.m. or later.

A Word From Verywell

The fact that obesity is a preventable condition is good news. By paying careful attention to basic daily habits and by sticking to a healthy lifestyle, you can avoid developing obesity. And if you already have obesity or overweight, switching to a healthier lifestyle will help you lose weight. Although it can be challenging at times, it is a journey well worth taking.

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Article Sources

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  9. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. How Much Sleep Do I Need? Updated March 2, 2017.

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