We republished this article from Guillermo Lopez LlunchPhD in biology and researcher in metabolism, aging and immune and antioxidant systems at Pablo de Olavide University, published in The Conversation on July 31, 2023.
Overweight and obesity are a global problem that affects hundreds of millions of people around the world. AND the explanation is not as simple as a general lack of will and self-control: There are deeper biological roots contributing to the problem.
We start from the assumption that our ancestors evolved from conditions in which the access to food was limited. The diet of the hominids depended on the ability to gather and hunt. This implied maintaining a nomadic activity dependent on where certain edible plants grew and the movements of the herds of animals they hunted.
On the other hand, much of our history takes place in four epochs of ice ages in which lack of nutrients could be relatively common. So our organism adapted to the food intake in times of abundance and fasting more or less prolonged in times of famine. And she did it by storing energy in the form of fat with a view to moments of scarcity.
This would be a wonderful trait of our species were it not for the fact that there are no longer herds of animals to chase, nor do we have to go on long walks in search of vegetables and fruits. Agriculture and livestock have changed everything. The effort we need to make to feed ourselves is limited to going to a store or supermarket, opening the fridge, putting the pan with food on the stove, or even heating the plate of food in a microwave in just one minute.
If we add to all this the sedentary pandemic that we suffer, we reach a situation in which we eat much more than what our body needs while consuming too little. the rest do our biology, which tends to store “just in case”.
With ultra-processed foods, the stomach hardly works
But there is still more. With the ease of processing food thanks to the agri-food industry, every time we eat nutrients with greater absorption capacityso our stomach does not even have to make great efforts to convert them into easily assimilable nutrients through the intestine.
These ultra-processed foods contain high amounts of sugars, fats and salts. And the intake of it, even by the mother during pregnancyhas been considered a risk for developing overweight and obesity.
a vicious cycle
It is not just a question of aesthetics: there is a lot at stake, especially health. The great problem of obesity lies in the imbalance that produces throughout the body, overloading metabolic regulation. In fact, One of its best known effects is the type 2 diabetes, which reduces the response to insulin thus increasing blood glucose. This, in turn, increases the risk of heart attacks, circulatory, neural, renal, inflammatory and visual problems among others.
Another of its clearest effects consists of the overload of the cardiovascular systemwhich ends up producing heart failure. It goes without saying that the imbalance produced by obesity also leads to abnormal immune system responses causing deficiencies against viral and bacterial infections.
To this is added that sometimes there are hormonal defects such as reduced leptin levelsthe hormone that controls appetite, and the systems that regulate it. This can increase feelings of hunger and make us ingest a excess foodeven if we don’t need them. Without forgetting the important role of the leptin in the control of multiple processes, from growth to the menstrual cycle or the immune system.
Thus, Overfeeding children from a very young age can lead to an imbalance in the sensation of hunger leading to overweight and obesity Without them noticing. Those forced teaspoons of baby food in excess can be creating a big problem.
Life habits matter, and a lot
Therefore, if we know that our body is predisposed to store fat easily, and that the intake regulation systems can be decompensated by overeating in childhood and even during pregnancy, we cannot ignore that by doing something on our part we help control the situation. Without this implying to ignore that there are obesity problems related to the complex genetic system that controls metabolism.
When these genetic problems do not exist, if we improve eating habits of the children, in addition to the habits of the parents, and we increase physical activity, simply for a matter of thermodynamics, the amount of fat will adapt to the needs of the body. We can be genetically predisposed to being obese, but we can also try to control the systems that regulate fat accumulation in our body by controlling caloric intake and expenditure.
Let’s not forget the number of detrimental effects that overweight and obesity produce, from motility and bone structure problems to metabolic, immune and even cognitive problems. It is not negligible to make an effort.
A more moderate intake and higher nutritional quality will always help, whatever our genetic predisposition.