The WHO says that obesity is preventable, but we also know that factors greater than diet and exercise play a role. Let’s unpack the data.
Obesity, as well as its related noncommunicable diseases, are largely preventable, says the World Health Organisation (WHO).
But, as WorldObesityDay.org says, obesity is a disease. And obesity is caused by a variety of factors, including biology, mental health, genetic risk, environment, healthcare access and access to ultra-processed food. Although physical exercise plays an important role in overall health and can be used in the context of comprehensive weight management interventions and prevention strategies, exercise alone is not an effective obesity treatment.
Stopping the Stigma
According to WorldObesityDay.org, weight stigma reinforces assumptions that obesity is merely a person’s individual responsibility. The problem is that this stigma can damage mental and physical well-being and may prevent people from seeking necessary medical care.
It also says that while stigma differs in different parts of the world, one thing is clear: experiencing systemic bias does not help people to adopt healthier lifestyles. In fact, it can make it harder. It also says that weight is one indicator of obesity, but treating obesity is about improving overall health, not just about losing weight.
How to reduce and prevent obesity
The WHO acknowledges that supportive environments and communities play a vital role in shaping people’s choices. But it recommends that, on an individual level, people can: limit energy intake from fats and sugars; increase consumption of healthy foods, such as fruit, vegetables, legumes and grains; and engage in regular physical activity, which is recommended to be a minimum of 150 minutes a week for adults.
Other than a focus on increasing healthy eating habits and physical exercise, Harvard TH CHan School of Public Health also recommends: limiting television time, screen time, and other ‘sit time’ as well as improving sleep and reducing stress.
The WHO also says that there is responsibility that lies with the food industry and society. It recommends the reduction in fat, sugar and salt in processed foods; ensuring that healthy and nutritious choices are available and affordable to all; a restriction of marketing foods high in sugars, salts and fats (particularly aimed at children); and ensuring that healthy food choices and regular physical exercise is supported in the workplace.