With obesity rates on the rise, researchers continue to examine potential factors affecting body weight and BMI other than caloric intake and physical activity. Currently, there is a range of options for targeting obesity including surgery, medication, and even psychological interventions however, the majority are costly or invasive endeavors. The development and prevalence of wearable monitoring technologies has dramatically increased the data available to researchers and clinicians, providing an opportunity for improved personalized patient care, prevention strategies, and treatment methods dependent on individual lifestyle habits. Stemming from extensive personal monitoring, recent research implicates the power of small lifestyle changes such as sleeping habits and meal times and their effects on weight gain.
The prevalence of obesity in the United States has skyrocketed in the past few decades, leading to jarring statistics that indicate a rapidly increasing global public health epidemic. Data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey states that more than 2 in 3 adults are considered overweight or obese; yet perhaps more disconcerting is the fact that approximately one-third of children and adolescents between the ages of 6 and 19 qualify as overweight or obese.
While the causes of obesity vary, factors include genetics, nutrition habits, lifestyle habits, geographic location, and socioeconomic status. The epigenetics of obesity demonstrate that genetic makeup plays an innate role, but can be mitigated and lessened by one’s activity choices and environment. As obesity is one of the primary risk factors for type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, and a host of other critically severe health problems, there is a pressing need for increased awareness and action steps surrounding the epidemic.
A recent study based at and conducted by UT Southwestern Medical Center reveals a strong genetic-environmental interaction: obesity significantly exacerbates the effects of gene variants that increase the risk of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) by various metabolic pathways. If untreated and unmonitored, NAFLD can ultimately lead to cirrhosis—chronic liver disease—and liver cancer. Scientists found that the PNPLA3 gene variant spurred the strongest genetic-environmental interaction: “the first genetic cause of NAFLD ever identified.” One of the lead researchers in the study explains that people with lower BMI indexes are unlikely to have excess fat in the liver, despite having the PNPLA3 risk alleles. A longitudinal study further revealed that the risk of having cirrhosis among those with the risk allele increased 5.8 times, compared to those who were obese but lacked the risk allele.
The findings demonstrate an interaction between obesity and genetics, confirming the importance of both genetic screenings and early interventions. Nevertheless, DNA is not the sole culprit; while genetics inevitably account for some of a person’s obesity risk, genes can be countered and curbed by the implementation of healthy lifestyle interventions. Increasing data and studies indicate that sleep hygiene is a necessary element in terms of obesity prevention, coupled with consistent physical activity and exercise.
Thus, although there is no single approach to prevent or treat overweight and obesity, the importance of diet and exercise cannot be understated—particularly with younger children and adolescent, as childhood obesity almost inevitably leads to adulthood obesity. While some studies suggest that the epidemic will worsen and hit new highs, others advocate for the imminent urgency of different treatment approaches, including collaboration with the food and restaurant industries regarding calories and portion sizes. Regardless of societal and external factors, the epigenetics of obesity can be influenced by our behavior and actions: namely, positive and healthy lifestyle interventions.
To learn more about personalized approaches & strategies to address weight management and obesity, attend our pre-conference Obesity Management Workshop in Las Vegas on December 13th, 2017.
Many of our patients who don’t usually partake in the practice of medicine other than their regularly required annual physician visits, would be appalled to learn the truth about the lack of nutrition training in medical school.
Our A4M fellows and faculty assure us every day that most traditional physicians practicing medicine in our country today are not given ample time or training on nutrition during their many years as students.
Globally, studies indicate that more than two billion adults and children across the globe are overweight or obese, and suffer from related health problems. This number equates to one-third of the world’s population.
The saddest part about this topic is that our own country is suffering from an obesity epidemic where more than one in three U.S. adults and one in six children (ages 2-19) are obese; this data includes that one in 11 young children (ages 2-5) are obese.1
Obesity is one of the leading causes of preventable death and as physicians, we would be lying if we did not say these numbers do not reflect in our practices.
How many obese patients do you see? How many of your patients are overweight?
Do you feel fully equipped to discuss eating, diets, and exercise with them?
We know from experience that this is not an easy topic. Harvard Medical School published an article on habits to encourage weight loss that we have shared with our community. It brings to light the fact that “eating healthier” is not so much the mystery here; it is more the changing of a person’s everyday habits that make them able to combat being overweight.
Eating slower, consuming more even-sized meals and making the time to prepare healthier meals while at home were among the likely habit-changing suggestions in this article2. A daily weigh-in on a digital scale was suggested as more effective than calorie tracking since evidence of weight loss on an actual scale proved to remove weight and keep it off. But the most surprising habit listed was regarding sleep.
Sleep, another topic we have covered in our education at A4M was classified as a habit tied to weight loss. Studies show that the shorter time someone sleeps, the more at risk they are to becoming obese or overweight. Recent articles suggest that these people are up eating…and those same people who are up and eating, are not eating kale and nuts. They are eating the things that hurt like ice cream, chips, and cookies.
If you want to learn more about fighting weight and helping your overweight patients with their related health issues, we can help. We will provide you with proven clinical strategies that can be used to optimize your patients’ health and provide diagnostic, preventive, and therapeutic interventions. Visit us this December at our 25th Annual World Congress and get actively involved in fighting this epidemic and ultimately changing your patients’ lives.