By Gilbert Kidimu
ALTHOUGH we are becoming a more health conscious society, it still boggles the mind that obesity among adults and children is on the rise. But more than that, it is a wake-up call for society to re-assess their familyâ€™s dietary habits and come up with a plan to reduce their weight gain before they develop chronic illnesses, common among overweight adults in developed countries.
Unfortunately, for most people in developing countries, it is hard to know if they are overweight, which makes the web complex.
However, one of the easiest ways to determine oneâ€™s measure of fat is using Body Mass Index (BMI).
BMI is a measure based on height and weight that applies to both adult men and women.
It is a statistical measure which compares a personâ€™s weight and height. Although it does not actually measure the percentage of body fat, it is used to estimate a healthy body weight based on a personâ€™s height.
BMI is the widely used diagnostic tool to identify weight problems within a population, whether people are underweight or obese.
Globally, there are over one billion overweight adults, at least 300 million of these are clinically obese.
Mulindwa says the key cause of high BMI is overconsumption of energy-dense foods high in saturated fats and sugars, and reduced physical activity.
Saturated fats are a type of fats which are solid at body temperature. They stick on artery walls, causing high blood pressure. An example of saturated fats is margarine.
Elizabeth Madraa, the head of health and nutrition at the Ministry of Health, says obesity is regarded as a problem among older people in Uganda, but is on the rise among young people too.
â€œUndernutrition continues to pose the biggest problem, with about 40% of children suffering from malnutrition,â€ she adds.
Risks of high BMI
According to World Health Organisation,
Overweight and obesity lead to adverse metabolic effects on blood pressure, cholesterol and insulin resistance.
It increases the risks of cancer of the breast, colon, prostate, kidney and gall bladder.
Chronic overweight contributes to arthritis, a major cause of disability among adults.
High BMI can lead to respiratory problems, infertility for both men and women, chronic skeletal problems, and skin problems.
It causes chronic diseases like type two diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, hypertension and stroke.
â€œThe likelihood of developing type two diabetes and hypertension rises steeply with increasing body fatness,â€ says Mulindwa.
Essentially confined to elderly adults, he reveals that this disease now affects obese children even before adulthood.
Although obesity should be considered a disease in its own right, according to researchers, it is one of the key risk factors for other chronic diseases like high blood pressure and high blood cholesterol.
â€œEighty five percent of people living with diabetes are as a result of overweight,â€™ says Mulindwa
However, while most people classify body builders as overweight when using BMI, it does not apply to body builders and cases in parallel categories.
What you should be looking at is your body fat percentage. Muscles weigh more than fat, so the results are skewed in case you use BMI, says Vincent Iannelli, a paediatrician of American Academy of paediatrics.
Studies show that women whose BMI is below 20 or above 30 have a harder time getting pregnant, so it is wiser to get yourself within the range of 20 to 30 before you start trying.
Iannelli says parents should adhere to a healthy diet not just for the children, but themselves as well.
â€œChildren should be given the right diet no matter how many tantrums they throw; they will get to it in time,â€ he adds.
For years, doctors have used height and weight measurements to assess a childâ€™s physical growth in relation to other children of the same age.
But today, they have another tool â€” BMI. Doctors use it to determine how appropriate a childâ€™s weight is in relation to age and height.
Mulindwa says BMI is used slightly differently for children. It is calculated the same way as adults but instead of set thresholds for underweight and overweight, it is compared to typical values for other children of the same age.
Vegetarian diets are currently the ultimate alternative method to conventional foods because with junk food, children miss out on the proper nutrients, vitamins and minerals.
Iannelli says being underweight or at risk of being underweight means that your child has a BMI for his age that is lower than the 5th percentile.
However, being underweight deserves a full medical examination. This is if your child is not gaining weight or has recently lost weight, poor appetite, an unhealthy diet, or a low energy level.
The way to go
You may be trying to lose some weight. If so, focus more on good nutrition and physical activity as the basis for a right BMI hence a healthy living plan.
Mulindwa says effective weight management for individuals and groups at risk of developing obesity involves a range of long-term strategies.
These include weight maintenance, management of co-morbidities and weight loss. They should be part of environmental support for healthy diets and regular physical activity.
Tips on gaining normal weight
For those who are underweight, Mulindwa advises you to:
Eat three meals a day and on time.
Stop drinking non-caloric beverages like diet soda and plain tea or coffee.
Instead, take juices rich in calories, but remember you need calories, not fat.
Avoid drinks like milk with higher fat content.
Choose calorie-dense foods like potatoes, corn, or peas instead of low calorie ones like carrots.
Regular exercise and activity will help your body gain more muscle and less fat, hence a healthy weight.
How is BMI calculated?
Dr. Amos Mulindwa, a physician at Care Clinic, says BMI is found by dividing an individualâ€™s body weight in kilograms by the square of his or her height in metres.
For example, to calculate the BMI of an adult male of 72kg who is 1.7m tall:
The normal BMI for an adult ranges from 18.5-24.9.
A person is underweight if his or her BMI is less than 16.5.
If the BMI is 25-30, then a person is overweight.
A person is obese if the BMI is 30.1 going up.