At age 19, after years of overeating and making poor diet choices, Pierre Coleman suffered a serious heart attack during his sophomore year at Howard University, which was caused by a virus that attacked the lining of his heart, blocking one of his arteries. “The doctors said that although my cholesterol was sky high, the attack wasn’t directly linked to my weight, but my being 5’9” and 255 pounds definitely didn’t help matters,” says the now 30-year-old Newark, NJ-based filmmaker. “They warned me that if I didn’t change my diet and lose some weight that I’d most certainly be back in the hospital—and the next time I may not be so lucky.” And their warnings were not without merit. According to a study published in the American Journal of Public Health, adult obesity—which is defined as having an abnormal amount of body fat and is determined by your weight to height ratio (body mass index)—can lead to serious illness and even death. Obesity currently accounts for 18 percent of deaths among Americans between ages 40 and 85. The findings of another study infer a dangerous rise in those obesity-related deaths since the study predicts that 39 states will have obesity rates above 50 percent of the population by 2030 (currently most states are resting at 20 to 30 percent). “All you have to do is look around, and you will see the current state of overweight and obesity in our country,” says Virginia Peragallo Dittko, executive director of the Winthrop University Hospital’s Diabetes and Obesity Institute in Mineola, N.Y. “We live in a fast-paced culture with an abundance of food. People take less time to cook and favor foods that are high in calories.” Diabetes, heart disease and hypertension are a few of the chronic conditions generally associated with obesity, but Peragallo-Dittko says lesser-known health conditions such as depression, dementia, erectile dysfunction, polycystic ovarian syndrome, infertility and even complications associated with pregnancy have become commonly linked to obesity. Additionally, it’s also been reported that the abdominal pressure that comes along with being grossly overweight is the culprit for the rise in acid reflux cases, increasing the risk of developing esophageal cancer.
“The good news: losing five to seven percent of your body weight has been proven to reduce your risk of diabetes as well as other diseases,” says Peragallo-Dittko. “If you weigh 280 pounds, losing 14 to 20 pounds will have a significant impact on your health.” Coleman can attest to that. With the help of a trainer and a strict diet, he’s lost 70 pounds. “There’s no more heavy breathing when I walk up the stairs,” he says. “My mood is a lot better, and the emotional eating has subsided big time. Since losing the weight, I stress a lot less, and my doctor took me off all the heart medication. Now, the only pills I’ve got to remember to take are my vitamins.” Peragallo-Dittko says that with any discussion about obesity, there’s no room for blame or judgment. “We may learn that certain people are more prone to become overweight than others,” she says, “but it’s a scientifically proven fact that to lose weight you need to eat fewer calories and increase your level of exercise, especially in the context of a culture that is working against your weight loss efforts.”
–by Shydel James