Obesity among Young People: Why Should We Talk about It?

It is almost unbelievable how large is the number of factors that affect the physical and mental wellbeing of young people. These interconnected factors vary from broad concepts such as security, safety, and the economic development of one’s home country, to more personal traits such as family, education opportunities, and health. In this article we will talk about health and thoroughly explore the impact of obesity among young people on their physical and mental state. We will see how obesity is measured, what causes it, and what are some of the key health problems that stem from it. 

According to the United Nations (UN), in 2019 there were 1.2 billion persons between the ages of 15 and 24 years, or around one in every six people worldwide. When talking about 1/6 of the world population and the social group that is usually portrayed as the “future”, it is important to treat obesity as a serious public health difficulty.

Most of the world’s population live in countries where overweight and obesity kills more people than underweight (World Health Organization (WHO), April 2020), and such problems need to be properly addressed by creating and maintaining an environment that meets the needs of the young adults who are obese or who are vulnerable to it.

Recently, worrisome key facts have been reported by WHO, such as:

  • Worldwide obesity has nearly tripled since 1975.
  • Over 340 million children and adolescents aged 5-19 were overweight or obese in 2016.
  • Overweight and obesity are linked to more deaths worldwide than underweight.
  • At least 2.6 million people each year die as a result of being overweight or obese.


Defining and Measuring Obesity

Obesity and overweight are described as ‘’abnormal or excessive fat accumulation that presents a risk to health”. When people take in more calories than they use or burn, their bodies store these extra calories as fat. Although very often proclaimed as such, obesity is not an appearance-related issue only, it is also a medical concern with a serious capacity to harm the obese person’s health. Moreover, obesity also exhibits the capacity to shape to a very significant extent the individual’s mental health as well.

Corpulent legs run on treadmill
What is obesity?

There is not a single fixed method or scale to measure overweight, this mainly because in youth or teenagers the body is still growing and undergoing various physical changes. However, the form of measurement called body mass index (BMI) is commonly used by health professionals to tell if someone is classified as overweight. It calculates how much body fat the person has. This is possible by measuring a person’s height and weight, and then putting these numbers on charts – different charts being used for girls and boys. Nowadays, you can even get a BMI report from several online platforms, yet the safest way for doing this is by visiting your doctor.


“The Genetic Tendency” Leading toward Obesity

In trying to answer the question, why do young people become overweight, we will have to dig deeper into one’s everyday habits and food choices. Bigger food portions and high-calorie snacks and beverages full of artificial sugar are all component factors that mark the path to obesity.

In addition to this, it is of a crucial importance to emphasize the fact that some people have a genetic predisposition to becoming obese. According to the nonprofit children’s health system, Nemours, obesity tends to run in families. Hence, some people have a genetic tendency to gain weight more easily than others. It is acknowledged that genes strongly influence body type and size. Also, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, family health history reflects the effects of shared genetics and environment among close relatives.

However, despite some people’s genetic tendency to become obese or overweight, a healthy diet and physical activity patterns speak volumes. Naturally, a lifestyle in which climbing the stairs is the biggest physical activity and a taxi cab waits in front of every door is deemed to contribute to increasing the statistics of obesity.


Weight-Related Health Issues among Youth

Obesity at a younger age is affiliated with a higher chance of premature death and disability in adulthood. Diabetes and cardiovascular diseases are among the serious health problems resulting from obesity. Obese young people are prone to suffering from short-term and long-term health complications.

Obesity-related health problems include, but are not limited to:

  • diabetes
  • cardiovascular illnesses (heart failure and stroke)
  • specific types of cancer (breast, colon, and endometrial)
  • musculoskeletal disorders, muscle pain
  • high blood pressure and cholesterol
  • breathing problems – asthma
  • mental-health related issues and depression (see below)


The Psychological Effects of Obesity

Real consequences of obesity go way beyond appearance and appearance-related self-esteem. Reckoning the immense importance of mental health among young people, I will treat separately the psychological effect of obesity on them. Young people suffering from obesity have consistently reported psycho-social problems and suicidal thoughts more often than their “normal-weight” peers.

Depressed overweight woman
Obesity goes hand in hand with psychological issues

Moreover, according to two new studies by the Karolinska Institutet, children with obesity have a three times higher risk of mortality in early adulthood compared with children in the general population and are more likely to suffer from anxiety and depression. These findings have also emphasized the need to identify specific risk factors for children with obesity and find preventative tools.

More than this, young people distressed by obesity also are more prone to social stigma and discrimination. All of these lead the possibility of more isolated lives and obstacles in finding education or employment opportunities, and social recreation engagements.

As previously discussed in my piece “World Youth Skills Day: Aspiring to Develop a Resilient Youth”, the challenges faced by youth are various, both in the social and economic spheres. Obesity, however, remains among the most far-reaching public health problems of the 21st century and is currently listed by WHO as one of the most serious public health challenges of our time.

If you know any inspiring stories featuring young people, please feel free to share them with Youth Time contributor by reaching her out via Twitter.

Photos: Shutterstock

World Youth Skills Day: Aspiring to Develop a Resilient Youth




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