A French in two are affected by overweight or obesity. Journalist Hélia Hakimi, author of the book The truth about obesity, published by Éditions Robert Laffont, estimates that the effects of this epidemic will be phenomenal over the next ten to twenty years. The journalist believes that obesity is still poorly managed, even though progress can be seen.
Can we speak of an obesity epidemic in France and in the world?
We can speak of an obesity epidemic. One in two French people is overweight or obese. On a continental scale, that’s six in ten Europeans, according to the latest WHO report published in May.
Is the evolution of obesity related to our changes in consumption?
Our modern way of life explains that more obesity is explained. Nowadays you can do almost everything without getting off your couch. And many do. This way of life is impregnated from childhood. The screens are very present there. 40 or 50 years ago, these same kids were made to frolic.
There is also, and very insidiously, the food industry. We used to have more time to cook. Today we have lunch on the go, in front of the TV, with snacking habits.
This is a major contributor to the obesity epidemic. In the past, there were just as many people with genes to be obese. But with the way of life of the time, this obesity did not explain itself, or later.
Are there genetic factors that determine weight gain?
It is not possible to be obese without genetic factors. It is not because a person eats a lot while living a sedentary lifestyle that he becomes obese. Over the past twenty years, scientists have identified many genes linked to obesity. In people suffering from common obesity, they are found in 90% of cases.
These susceptibility genes, to be expressed, must be associated with an obesogenic environment, namely a sedentary lifestyle, a diet that is too sweet or too salty, stress or lack of sleep. It is the external factors other than the genetics that reveal the genes.
Is obesity necessarily synonymous with poor health?
No not necessarily. At least not in the beginning. Obesity is a disease of adipose tissue. Fat cells, which contain fat, are sick. The more you gain weight, the more fat they store and become hypertrophic, so very large.
Above a certain size, the diameter of a hair, it is estimated that the cell has become hypertrophic and can no longer grow. It gives a hormonal signal to other cells to store fat from food. New cells are created. This phenomenon can occur indefinitely.
The cell is surrounded by inflammatory cells, itself surrounded by fibrosis. Due to fibrosis, the cell becomes inert, it can no longer release lipids. This is what keeps you from losing weight despite dieting or physical activity.
People whose fat cells are inert cannot lose weight. The only goal for these people is to maintain their weight. But it’s rare for a doctor to tell his patients. Some will still give much hope, wrongly.
What are the effects of restrictive diets?
All diets that restrict too many calories and set aside certain nutrients are harmful to health. To be healthy, you need a balanced diet. You should have protein at every meal, as well as vegetables, starchy foods and always a little bit of fat. The body needs all kinds of nutrients and even fats, even in obese people.
In addition, even after we lose ten, fifteen or twenty pounds, we generally return to the pre-diet diet. We introduce all banned foods, such as sweets, chocolates, fat…
It’s called the yo-yo phenomenon. As time goes by, it’s ‘diet, crack, diet, crack’. This leads to weight gain, sometimes greater than the pounds lost. It’s counterproductive.
Is obesity prevention adequate?
Faced with obesity, there is a real problem of prevention in France. Whatever the disease, we’re in the healing. The National Collective of Obese Associations warns that obesity is not prevented in France.
Children should exercise more from preschool, kindergarten, primary school and cooking workshops. It almost has to go from prevention to lifestyle and food hygiene.
It is not present in any institution today. It’s rare for a school to have a chef or teach a teacher how to eat properly. But if this does not happen, inequality will increase.
Privileged families are warned and watch their children’s diets, providing them with seasonal, minimally processed products. Underprivileged families cannot accustom their children to this way of life. In addition to food diversification, this creates a gap between children from families with a very disadvantaged socio-economic background and others.
The truth about obesity by Hélia Hakimi, published June 23, 2022 by Éditions Robert Laffont.
(ETX Daily Up)