Despite being dismissed by some as merely a cosmetic issue, obesity is increasingly being recognized as a serious and complex disease with far-reaching consequences. Martha Kaufer Horwitz, director of Nutrition at the National Institute of Medical Sciences and Nutrition, Salvador Zubirán, highlighted this concern during a lecture at the UNAM (National University). “It's a disease characterized by a change in the body composition due to an excessive or abnormal accumulation of fat,” she warned.
According to Horwitz, obesity isn't just a simple issue of carrying extra weight. It's a complex, multifactorial disease with a host of related risks that can have severe health repercussions. The disorder is marked by an abnormal or excessive accumulation of fat in the body, affecting both individual and public health. Horwitz argues that labeling obesity as a disease allows governments and health professionals to be more accountable for its early detection, prevention, and comprehensive treatment.
One shocking aspect of obesity, as pointed out by Horwitz, is its ability to spread socially, much like a contagious disease, albeit not through traditional vectors like bacteria or viruses. Instead, the mechanisms for its transmission are deeply rooted in lifestyle factors—diet, physical activity, and general behavior—that are integral to human survival and social interaction.
“In essence, obesity can be considered a social epidemic,” she added. “It's facilitated by geographical proximity and social relationships, making it a community issue rather than a personal failing.”
While genetic susceptibility can play a role in obesity, Horwitz emphasizes that these genetic factors alone can't explain the current obesity epidemic. “Genetics takes years, thousands of years to change, while environments change much faster,” she pointed out.
She introduced the term “obesogenic environments” to describe settings that encourage unhealthy eating and sedentary lifestyles. According to her, the fight against obesity must involve identifying these environments and crafting strategies, together with health professionals, to mitigate their impact.
Much More than Weight Gain
Obesity is more than skin-deep; it brings a raft of associated health problems. Horwitz outlined a troubling list of complications that can arise, ranging from psychosocial issues like depression and low self-esteem to more serious health risks like endocrine issues, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and even fatty liver—a condition often hard to detect.
Shedding light on the situation in Mexico, Horwitz pointed out that over 30 percent of the population is dealing with some level of obesity, and a staggering 80 percent of those people face a variety of metabolic, mechanical, and psychological issues.
Horwitz was clear that there are no “magic diets” that can solve obesity. Instead, she recommends seeking advice from healthcare professionals to create individualized treatment plans. She also outlined some general objectives for anyone dealing with obesity: adopting healthy eating habits, increasing physical activity, respecting sleep schedules, managing stress, and maintaining a balanced body composition.
Martha Kaufer Horwitz's revelations reiterate that obesity is far more than a simple issue of aesthetics. It's a complex disease with far-reaching societal implications, and its mitigation requires a multi-faceted approach involving individuals, health professionals, and policymakers. With a problem, this complicated, it's time that society shifts its mindset from one of blame to one of understanding, prevention, and comprehensive treatment.