Wednesday September 27, 2023

Could culinary medicine treat obesity?

Similar to strategies employed to battle COVID-19, scientists recommend concerted international efforts to combat obesity epidemic

By Web Desk
December 08, 2022
Image shows a food market.— Unsplash
Image shows a food market.— Unsplash

Many diseases have obesity as a risk factor. Calorie restriction, bariatric surgery, and pharmaceuticals are currently used as therapies. However, the number of obese persons is still rising. The increased accessibility of meals high in calories is one of several variables that contribute to weight gain.

More than 1.9 billion persons worldwide were overweight in 2016, and 650 million of them were obese, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). Between 1975 and 2016, the prevalence of obesity in the world tripled.

In the United States, almost 40% of adults suffer from obesity, while more than a quarter do so in the United Kingdom.

It is well recognised that obesity is unhealthy. Many dangers associated with obesity are listed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), including increased mortality, high blood pressure, stroke and diabetes.

A report published in August 2022 gave the following warning: “Given dire implications in terms of comorbidities and mortality, updated epidemiological findings call for coordinated actions from local and regional governments, the scientific community and individual patients alike, as well as the food industry for the obesity pandemic to be controlled and alleviated.”

Similar to the strategies employed to battle COVID-19, the authors recommended concerted international efforts to combat the obesity epidemic.

What is culinary medicine?

The increased interest in the connection between food, eating, cooking and health has given rise to culinary medicine. It has been called "a new evidence-based field in medicine that combines the science of medicine with the art of food and cookery."

A premium, customised diet is used in culinary medicine to prevent and treat illness and preserve wellness. The objective is to make it possible for people to consume food and drink in a safe and efficient manner to achieve desired health results.

It's not a novel idea to use food as medicine, and in some cases, altering eating habits can be just as successful as taking medication.

For example, rheumatoid arthritis can be treated with an anti-inflammatory diet, while type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease can be prevented with the Mediterranean diet, which places an emphasis on fruits, vegetables, olive oil, legumes, and whole grains and excludes ultra-processed foods and meat.

Why is obesity increasing?

Following are some possible factors for the spread of this illness, according to a recent editorial in the journal Obesity:

"Increased per capita food supply, increased availability and marketing of high-calorie and high-glycemic-index foods and drinks, larger food portions, replacement of leisure time physical activities with sedentary ones like watching television and using electronics, inadequate sleep, and use of medications that increase weight."

In Fountain Valley, California, at Orange Coast Medical Center, Dr Mir Ali, a bariatric surgeon and the medical director of MemorialCare Surgical Weight Loss Center, agreed, telling Medical News Today that "the causes of obesity are multifactorial; undoubtedly genetics plays a role; evolution is a very slow process but can also play a role."

“Primarily, obesity is driven by the change in our diets to more energy-dense foods, a more sedentary lifestyle, and environmental factors, such as urbanisation can also play a role,” he explained.

How to address obesity at a sustainable level globally?

There is no evidence that community-based interventions and social marketing initiatives especially targeting obesity generate meaningful or enduring impact, according to a 2011 study that examined the effectiveness of public health programmes in the fight against obesity.

According to the authors, enacting high-level policy and legislative measures to transform the obesogenic surroundings in which we live by offering incentives for healthy food and greater levels of physical activity would be a more appropriate method.

But urging people to eat less and exercise more won't be enough to solve the world's obesity epidemic.

Is food marketing to blame?

It goes without saying that people desire food that is readily available, secure, practical, and affordable because we need it to survive. Additionally, since the production of food is a profitable industry, producers and sellers go to great lengths to convince us to purchase it.

The obesity pandemic has frequently been blamed on food marketing. Pricing may be the factor that influences individuals the most to eat too much out of all of these. According to a 2012 analysis, the price was the best indicator of higher energy intake and obesity. When consumers spend less for a food item, they not only consume more of it but also frequently.

Plus, supposedly healthy choices can be misleading.

Perhaps the solution lies in convincing food producers and retailers that they can still make money even when they are encouraging consumers to eat healthier food choices rather than bad items.

And consumers to need to adopt a new perspective on food, seeing it as a tool for achieving and sustaining good health. Here is where culinary medicine could be useful.

Would culinary medicine be an effective way to fight obesity?

Dr Ali believes that while it is not a universal solution, it could still be helpful.

“Culinary medicine is the discipline of educating and empowering people to choose and cook healthy foods. Though, like other methods of weight loss, each individual will respond differently to this approach and thus have varying degrees of success.”

Making sure that healthy food is enjoyable and not viewed as a poor substitute for the unhealthy food it replaces is essential to its success.