Adolescence is a transitional period between the childhood and adulthood, it is a period of physical, biological and mental change. As knowledge has accumulated about human development during puberty and beyond, and about the development of the brain in particular, it has become clear that the notion of adolescence as a stage of sexual maturation is far too simple. Many interlinks changes and processes influence adolescent behavior, as well as the way young adults think and make decisions. Understanding these changes and their dynamic extension into early adult life which offers not only an opportunity for new approach to minimizing risks to health and wellbeing but also a moment to engage adolescents for their future adult life and even for the future generations.
There are about 1.2 billion adolescents aged 10-19 years in the world today, 89% of whom live in developing countries. Adolescence is a crucial life stage during which individuals must have the opportunity to develop the capabilities required for realizing their full potential and achieving a prosperous, healthy life.
Transitions from adolescence to adulthood require investments in health information, services provided and tailored to adolescent needs, quality education, vocational training, and healthy lifestyle which needs to be done at every level of stakeholders: the adolescent, the parents, community and the governments. Especially for the adolescent girls, it is important to put in place targeted interventions to address issues that prevent the realization of their full potential; for example child marriage, violence and abuse, teenage pregnancy, abortion and so on.
To work effectively for and with the adolescents, it is essential that we engage with stakeholders across the health, education, governance and others ensuring that the marginalized have access to the opportunity. Adolescents can be a key driving force in building a future of dignity for all if we start today.
Credit: Temidayo Adewumi
Institute of Child Health, University of Ibadan, Nigeria
Moderator: Dr Olaitan Oyedun is a Public Health Physician and currently Chief Resident at the Department of Community Health, Obafemi Awolowo University Teaching Hospitals’ Complex. He works to get people healthy and help them stay that way!
Weight issues are a spectrum from being too little to being excessive. Today’s conversation will focus on excessive weight, however, all questions on ‘why weight matters’ are welcome. The conversation begins
We are glad to have you on this platform Sir, thank you for honouring our invite, we do hope it will be a very interactive session
Dr. O: Thank you
Moderator: To start with Sir, from a health standpoint, why does body weight matter?
Dr. O: A lot of health issues are linked to your body weight, mostly not good news. Contrary to the popularly held belief that excessive weight gain or being “fat” is a sign of good living or affluence, it causes far-reaching damage to the body, especially the cardiovascular system, which includes the heart, responsible for maintaining blood flow around the body.
Moderator: Thank you. What factors are responsible for excessive weight gain?
Dr. O: Let’s take this from the top. To function normally, our body needs energy, which we take in as food. Usually, when we take more food than the body needs, immediately the body converts the excess food (energy) into a long-term storage form which is fat, which then accumulates in the body over time (just like depositing money in the bank without ever making a withdrawal except that this is bad money!) When this accumulation of fat becomes excessive, it becomes a medical condition called Obesity. In technical terms, the resultant effect of an imbalance between energy intake and expenditure results in excessive weight gain.
Moderator: But some people just don’t seem to gain weight no matter what and some just can’t seem to control it. Why is this so?
Dr. O: I guess your question is whether weight gain is a function of nature or nurture? The straight-up answer is yes, it is a bit of both. While some people do have a higher genetic potential for weight gain than others, nurture, which is largely our lifestyle, including the food we eat and our exercise habits, plays a very big role in determining whether we gain excessive weight or not.
Moderator: Thank you so much for the enlightening discussion so far. What kind of effects does this excessive weight gain have on health, Sir?
Dr. O: There are psychological and physical health effects. The psychological health effects include low self-esteem, poor self-image and stigmatization. This can be quite a serious social problem, especially for adolescents with excessive teasing and body shaming from peers and nicknames like “fattybumbum” or “fatso”. Being the butt end of such jokes can result in grave consequences including suicide and just like any medical condition, obese persons deserve empathy and support in order to make healthier life choices. Physical effects include breathing problems, musculoskeletal issues like pain at the joints and problems with mobility (Osteoarthritis), Importantly, obesity can become a catalyst for other serious health problems like raised blood pressure, stroke, Diabetes mellitus and have has been linked to cancers of the throat, stomach, gallbladder, pancreas, bowels, breast and many other organs.
Moderator: How do you know if you are obese? How do you measure obesity?
Dr. O: There are many available ways to check but a very easy one to calculate is the body mass index known as BMI. This just talks about your weight relative to your height. You can calculate this by getting a weighing scale and checking your weight in Kilograms and dividing this by the square of your height in meters. If you get a figure from 25 and above, you are already considered overweight, and a figure 30 and above means you are already in one of the obese categories. If in doubt, consult a doctor.
Moderator: Sir, what can be done to prevent excessive weight gain?
Dr. O: Good question. The most important prevention is a change in behaviour and lifestyle. The journey towards a healthier lifestyle and improved self-image can be quite fun and immensely rewarding. Diet and exercise is a double defence against obesity. It is best to only, always, eat just what you need and not more and to avoid foods that contain a lot of fats and oil, (what we really want to avoid are saturated fats found in animal fats and poultry skin). In fact, it’s best to just avoid fast food and oily snacks. A great alternative is to take more fruits and veggies, (most of which are good for you anyway) and encourage young people to pick-up these good habits early. On exercising, a lot of young people and adults spend a considerable amount of time, sitting down all day, at work, at home, at school and even at leisure, in front of computers, in front of TVs reading for this and that. This is not good for their health. Less TV and more activity are very useful, take a walk, jog with friends, cycle, pick up an active sport find an outdoor hobby like gardening; take the stairs, park far from doors, if you can walk there, don’t drive! Moderate to vigorous physical activities, that raise your heart rate and breathing from a little bit to a lot, is very beneficial.
Moderator: For those who are already obese or overweight, what can be done to shed the weight Sir?
Dr. O: If very troubling, a physician should be consulted for medical or surgical treatment. If not so, a disciplined approach to the selecting the kind of foods we eat and getting active just like the tips the prevention earlier shared will work fine. Remember, the journey to a healthier lifestyle can and should be fun!
Moderator: Thank you so much for the enlightening discussion, Sir. Now we would like to take questions from our audience.
Question 1: Great discussion! Thanks Doc. I’d like to ask… when someone engages in physical exercises to shed weight, and stops, is it true that the person will gain more weight at a faster rate than before?
Dr. O: Lol, this is not true. However, it is easy to lose the gains of an effective exercise regimen if not maintained through a healthy diet and regular exercise. Proper diet and routine exercise are a double defence against obesity. You just have to keep at it!
Question 2: Self-image is an important issue for adolescents, how can we pragmatically work with obese adolescents to lead healthy lifestyle?
Dr. O: Excellent question. As mentioned during the conversation, adolescents are a very important group of people who are most affected by the psychological consequences of excessive weight gain. The good news is that, many are also quite energetic and willing to learn new positive behaviours towards achieving an improved self-image. As exercise and diet are an excellent dual pronged approach to controlling body weight a very practical approach includes finding a partner or partners willing to support an exercise schedule and diet plan. Having support helps a lot, especially for adolescents. An aerobics class can be quite fun and rewarding too. Other activities like cycling, jogging, and group sports can help a lot too. If the self-image is already badly damaged, seeking professional counselling is important for adolescents. A caveat though, starvation is not dieting! The body always needs basic nutrients to function.
Question 3: I once heard that it is necessary to go to the hospital to check the state of one’s heart before deciding on what form of exercise to embark on. Sir, is this necessary?
Dr. O: Moderate to vigorous physical activity, which puts your heart to more work than light physical activity, is actually more useful from a health point of view. Normally, most people can perform these activities without any worries for a limited time, longer for athletes, but there are health conditions including heart diseases that may limit the duration or intensity of exercise activity for those who have some of these medical conditions, If you suspect you have a limitation, or get tired easily after just a little exertion, see a Doctor for an assessment.
Moderator: We want to thank our Guest, Dr Olaitan Oyedun for the enlightening discussion on “Why Weight Matters” and also a big thank you to everyone for joining the conversation.
This conversation can be found on Twitter using the following hashtags #AHEADHealthTalk #whyweightmatters #weightmatters