Healthy Eating in the Modern Age
Healthy Eating in the Modern Age
By Asma B Omer
The last few decades have witnessed multiple technological advancements, which have enhanced our daily life in a number of ways. Similarly, the science of Nutrition has grown at a phenomenal speed. However the number of individuals who have become overweight or obese Healthy Eating in the Modern Age
is increasing year by year. Despite the vast number of books and articles written on healthy eating, dieting, slimming and weight loss strategies, obesity and overweight related ailments are yet to be overcome. Food is abundant in limitless quantities and varieties, as is information on healthy eating. However, people are not getting any healthier, and although they may be living longer this could be accompanied with a compromised quality of life. The question that needs to be addressed here is why?
In spite of the general understanding of the healthy eating message, 'eat less fat and more fibre' the latest statistics from the World Health Organisation (WHO) show that 32.2% of the adult population in the USA, 24.2% in the UK, 33.7% in the UAE and 35.6% in Saudi Arabia are clinically obese. Additionally, more people are becoming overweight. Obesity is a modern problem with serious and costly consequences. No country seems to be immune from the obesity epidemic as people are growing bigger and indeed wider everywhere in the world, especially in urban settings. The WHO predicts that approximately 2.3 billion adults will be overweight worldwide by 2015 and more than 700 million of them will be obese. The statics for children are equally alarming.
This trend has been greatly influenced by the modern way of living, which is dominated by vast automation and information technology. Over the past few decades, "the machine" has become an essential part of our everyday life. Modern-day lifestyle relies upon the regular use of cars, bikes, lifts, escalators, washing machines, dishwashers, microwaves, computers, laptops, telephone, vacuum cleaners etc., rendering the habitual physical activities of the past unnecessary. Such technological advancements have on one hand enhanced our quality of life and increased the average life expectancy but on the other hand have increased health-related risks. Our sedentary lifestyle has resulted in a predictable level of physical inactivity leading to resultant positive energy balance and thus weight gain, as well as difficulty in losing excess weight or maintaining any lost weight.
When taking the health-related risks of clinical obesity into account, including cardiovascular diseases, Type II Diabetes, arthritis, and some forms of cancer, strategies other than those called for over the last three decades are urgently needed. A multi-faceted approach that looks at the individual as a whole, including his/her lifestyle factors (rather than just focusing on one single dietary factor) should be adopted in order to achieve a better and long lasting outcome.
In my view there are two operating factors; the first is a lack of physical activity and the second is an increase in the average consumption of energy-dense food. The change in the home environment has led to more time for passive entertainment (e.g. watching TV, using a computer, surfing the internet, listening to an iPod, playing video games etc.) and less time for outdoor activities (such as walking, swimming and running). Cooking and food preparation are no longer a priority to most families due to the amount of time it takes. Instead, ready-prepared meals, fast food and tempting restaurant takeaway meals (all widely available at affordable prices) have replaced traditional family meals. In addition, attractively packaged and well-presented foods are displayed in supermarkets and local corner shops all year around. This abundance of food is combined with regular promotional offers (buy one, get one free, buy three for the price of two etc.), attractive discounts and strong advertising through all types of media, especially during the breaks of popular TV programs. Thus we are subconsciously encouraged to purchase more and consume more than we need (especially energy dense foods), mostly through passive eating such as snacking and picking.
It seems that we can manage to add years to life but not life to years, and expand our waistlines at the expense of our bank accounts and most importantly our future health. One would therefore wonder whether counting calories and grams of fat, and focusing merely on slimming rather than healthy eating is the answer. Or are there underlying factors contributing to what the statistics are indicating? There appear to be too many hypotheses and not enough definite answers, and people at all levels seem to be more confused than ever about what to eat and what to avoid, despite all-year-round availability and numerous choices.
Most dieting books emphasize reducing calorie intake, mainly via calorie counting. Such methods do not give adequate attention to the other nutritional information given, and tend not to focus much on maintaining a sustained level of physical activity, which is a fantastic means of initiating, increasing and/or maintaining a calorie deficit, thus allowing the individual to achieve steady weight loss. The success of these diets is often judged by how much weight is lost and how quickly, rather than how safely it is achieved and how the lost weight can be maintained. In essence, all diets, regardless of what they are called or who created them, tend to induce weight loss. But the truth is, there is no magical treatment or quick fix formula. The notion of dieting itself implies restriction and to some extent deviation from what is known to be normal and healthy. It leads to confusion as to what a healthy diet is, as many people think slimming diets are by definition healthy diets. In fact, this is not necessarily true.
It is now well recognized that dieting alone cannot solve the increase in the prevalence of obesity and overweight, together with their health-related risks. Although it is customary that every New Year comes with new ventures in dieting methods, the proportion of people who are getting fatter and heavier has more than doubled since the eighties. It is astonishing that dieting books are produced, marketed, sold and purchased in ever increasing numbers, whilst the population isn't getting any slimmer or indeed healthier. It is somewhat disconcerting that a number of clever personnel, including highly qualified professionals, agents and commercial companies continue to maximize their profits at the expense of the consumer's quest for that miracle formula, which will supposedly see the shrinking of their adipose tissue and the bulking up of their lean tissue mass.
As touched upon previously, important components of energy balance such as energy expenditure, represented by physical activity, are scarcely addressed in these dieting books. In my view and based on my experience in this field, both sides of the equation i.e. energy intake, represented by the food and drink we consume, and energy expenditure, in the form of habitual physical activities and physical exercise, need to be taken seriously and the latter should be taken with equal or far greater importance. What is also important for the success of any weight management program is the gradual and continual incorporation of corrective measures (being changes in eating habits or habitual physical activities) into the individual's lifestyle. Judging by current statistics, it appears that the only true beneficiaries are the biggest fast food retailers, the authors of the many thousands of dieting books currently circulating in an ever booming market and those who market and sell these books; not to mention the multimillion pound slimming industry. Ironically, those who follow these dietary regimens usually experience a short-lived benefit, confined to the designated period of the particular dietary regimen, and only temporary short falls on their weighing scales.
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Dr Asma B Omer, Founder & Managing Director of Therapia, is a highly qualified and experienced Consultant in Human/Clinical Nutrition, with more than 20 years experience in university teaching, research and health industry. She has been very successful in the treatment of Overweight and Obesity, and has much practical experience in the management of nutritionally related diseases in both the National Health Service (UK) and prestigious organizations in the private sector.
Academically, she holds a PhD in Nutritional Biochemistry and an MSc in Human Nutrition from The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, University of London, UK. Professionally, she is a Fellow Member of the Royal Society of Medicine, a full member of the British Nutrition Society (NS) and the British Dietetics Association (BDA) and a professional member of the Association of the Study of Obesity (ASO), Diabetes UK and HEART UK. In addition, She is a founder member of The Medical Advisory Committee of ISPA Europe, a member of the Institute of Directors (UK) and a former consultant nutritionist for the WHO.
Dr Omer can be contacted on Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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