By Dr. Mercola
According to research published in 2013, 1 in 5 American deaths is associated with obesity,1 and the younger you are, the greater obesity's influence on your mortality. Considering one-third of American children between the ages of 2 and 19 are now overweight or obese, chronic disease and mortality rates will likely climb dramatically in coming decades as the health of these youths begins to fail.
Since 1980, childhood obesity rates have tripled in the U.S., the rate of obese teens has quadrupled from 5 to 20.5 percent, and nearly 9 percent of 2- to 5-year-olds are now obese.2 As of 2014, the obesity rate among adults over 20 was just shy of 38 percent, costing the U.S. medical system $190 billion annually.
In December 2011, severe obesity was included as a qualifying disability under the American With Disabilities Act, further raising the cost of obesity on society as a whole. Being overweight during pregnancy also increases the risk of birth defects, recent research warns, and the more obese the mother, the greater the risk.4,5
More than half of all Americans also struggle with chronic illness6 — a truly shocking statistic when you consider modern health care is supposed to be the best mankind has ever been privy to. It really says a lot about the influence lifestyle wields on your health, and the price we pay for convenience.
Obesity — A Greater Health Threat Than Smoking
Data collected from tens of thousands of Canadians confirms obesity surpasses smoking in terms of creating ill health, and Dutch researchers recently predicted obesity and inactivity will overtake smoking as a leading cause of cancer deaths specifically.7 Processed foods shoulder the greatest blame for this trend. Many children are raised on fast food from the time they're able to eat solid foods, and are given sugary sodas and juices at even younger ages. As recently noted by Bruce Y. Lee in a Forbes op-ed:8
"The human population is in desperate need of an intervention … the kind organized by your friends when you don't realize how bad your problem has gotten and need to be confronted about it … How much more convincing do people really need? Continuing to gather more evidence without taking much more action is like continuing to check the water level while your toilet is overflowing without even reaching for the plunger.
In both cases, the result will be messy. The latest additions to what has become a growing mound of scientific evidence are the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Obesity Update 2017 report9 and a just published study in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM)."
1 in 10 Adults Worldwide Is Obese
According to the OECD, the global obesity rate among adults is now 1 in 10, or 10 percent.10,11,12 In 2015, excess weight accounted for 4 million deaths worldwide (just over 7 percent). Thirty-nine percent of people who died from cardiovascular disease were overweight but not obese, prompting a warning that health problems are not relegated to obesity. Carrying even a modest amount of excess weight can have a significant impact on your health.
The NEJM study13 reviewed over 1,000 published studies and data from more than 170 countries, looking to extrapolate and measure health effects associated with different body mass indexes (BMI). This study presents an even grimmer picture, showing a total of 12 percent of adults, globally, are obese, and 5 percent of all children.
When you factor in those who are overweight but not obese, the global rate is about 30 percent. Echoing previous studies, these results suggest there are now more overweight people in the world than there are underweight ones.14 No less than 73 countries have seen obesity rates double since 1980. Disturbingly, but not surprisingly, obesity rates are increasing much faster among children than adults. Lee continues:15
"The study also quantified the high amount of suffering caused by obesity using a measure called disability-adjusted life-years … which is the number of years lost to impaired function. All of this is not simply because people have gotten lazier or are making worse decisions.
With such 'big' numbers, something greater is amiss. Too many countries now have broken systems (e.g., too much garbage in food, too much garbage everywhere maybe affecting our metabolism, too much garbage on the internet, television, in our jobs and in our daily lives to keep us from eating well, exercising and sleeping) with the U.S. leading the way.
And not enough people are doing anything to change these systems … [T]he Trump administration has proposed massive cuts to scientific and public health funding and rolling back [Michelle Obama's] healthy school lunch initiatives, which may be like throwing more toilet paper into an overflowing toilet …"
BMI Is a Poor Metric of Health
Most studies, including those above, use BMI to determine whether an individual is of normal or excessive weight. A BMI of 25 to 30 is considered overweight; anything over 30 is obese. Your BMI is arrived at by dividing your weight in kilograms by the square of your height in meters. The problem is, this method fails to differentiate between muscle and fat tissue. It also doesn't take into account the actual distribution of body fat on your physical frame.
As noted in a recent Popular Science article,16 "… [B]elly fat might be hidden on your 6-foot, 2-inch frame, but it could still contribute to problems that kill you." We now know that excess visceral fat — the fat that accumulates around your internal organs — is far more hazardous to your health than subcutaneous fat (the more noticeable fat found just under your skin).
The danger of visceral fat is related to the release of proteins and hormones that can cause inflammation, which in turn can damage arteries and enter your liver, and affect how your body breaks down sugars and fats. Two tests that give you a far better idea of your body composition and health risk are your waist-to-hip ratio and your height-to-waist ratio.17
Either one will be far more accurate than BMI. As noted in a 2015 study,18 men with normal BMI but central obesity (fat centralized around the midsection) had TWICE the mortality risk of men considered obese according to their BMI but who had no central obesity.
Two Tests to Evaluate Your Health Risks
To determine your height-to-waist ratio,19 measure your height and your waist circumference with a measuring tape. Your waist circumference should be less than half of your height. Having a height-to-waist ratio of at least 2-to-1 is associated with longer life expectancy and a lower risk of inflammation, diabetes, heart disease and stroke.20
Your waist-to-hip ratio has the added benefit of giving you a better idea of the actual distribution of fat on your body. Having an apple shaped body is indicative of carrying more harmful visceral fat, which is associated with an increased risk for heart disease and diabetes. Carrying more fat around your hips and buttocks, on the other hand, is associated with lower health risks as this subcutaneous fat is not nearly as harmful as the fat around your internal organs.
That said, some body types may render this technique less than perfect as well. For example, women who are very thin and "straight" (i.e., don't have an hourglass figure) may end up in a higher risk category than is warranted. In such cases, you may want to measure both your height-to-waist and your waist-to-hip ratio to get a better idea of your overall risk.
To determine your waist-to-hip ratio, get a tape measure and record your waist and hip circumference. Then divide your waist circumference by your hip circumference. For a more thorough demonstration, please see the video above.
|Waist to Hip Ratio||Men||Women|
Waist to Hip Ratio: Ideal
Waist to Hip Ratio: Low Risk
Waist to Hip Ratio: Moderate Risk
Men: 0.96 to 0.99
Women: 0.81 to 0.84
Waist to Hip Ratio: High Risk
Food Policies Have Worsened Obesity Epidemic
Government policies have contributed to the growing obesity epidemic in a number of different ways, starting with the issuing of flawed dietary guidelines. Hand in hand with that you have agricultural subsidies promoting the growing of junk food ingredients rather than healthy fruits and vegetables, and the subsidizing of factory farms rather than smaller family-run farms. The U.S. government is even funding consumer outreach and education programs to promote acceptance of genetically engineered foods.21
Government policies have also made it far easier for minorities to open fast-food franchises rather than grocery stores, thereby contributing to the growing problem of "food deserts" — areas where all you can find are fast-food joints and gas station fare.
One of the reasons why fast-food franchises are given preference for Small Business Administration (SBA) Equal Opportunity Loans is because they have a far greater profit margin; a fast-food restaurant can have a profit margin as high as 6 percent, whereas a grocery store typically only has a profit margin of 1 percent, so loans are more likely to be repaid.
As noted in a recent NPR article reviewing professor Chin Jou's book, "Super Sizing Urban America: How Inner Cities Got Fast Food With Government Help:"22
"'African-American consumption of fast food today is not a function of any longstanding preferences for fast food,' Jou told NPR … She says that it's a consequence of 'targeted relentless marketing,' as well as historic developments like the [SBA] loan program and high unemployment rates among African-Americans …
Fast-food companies, which had saturated their original markets of roadside stops and suburbs, needed expansion in order to grow profits. Reaching out to potential African-American franchisees was their roadmap to success. In fact, fast-food companies couldn't open restaurants in many urban areas without them …
Jou quotes Brady Keys, former NFL football player turned franchisee, who put it more bluntly: 'They [fast-food corporations] know that doing business in my area is hell. There's cutting, shooting, killing. So they say, we really don't want to do this ourselves, so why don't we get this black cat over here and franchise him?'"
Fried Potatoes Double Risk of Early Death
There's simply no doubt that processed foods are at the very heart of the obesity problem. The risks of a processed food diet, high in added sugars, harmful fats and synthetic ingredients have been demonstrated in numerous studies. Most recently, a study23,24 published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition warns that eating fried potatoes more than twice a week can double your risk of an early death, compared to not eating fried potatoes at all.
The researchers believe this is due to the cooking oil, which is high in trans fat. As noted by author Nicola Veronese, trans fat raises LDL cholesterol, a risk factor in cardiovascular disease. Vegetable oils also degrade into toxic oxidation products when heated, including aldehydes, which are highly inflammatory and have been implicated in heart disease and Alzheimer's.
Cooking oils are also a source of damaged omega-6 fats, and a lopsided ratio of omega-6 and omega-3 is yet another contributing factor to obesity. Studies show a connection between the consumption of omega-3 fats and a decrease in fatty tissue development, along with increases in beneficial brown fat and weight loss, while eating too many omega-6s promotes fatty white tissue and chronic inflammation, two of the biggest red flags indicating obesity.
Omega-6 polyunsaturated fats, when taken in large amounts, also cannot be burned for fuel. Instead, they're incorporated into cellular and mitochondrial membranes. Here, they become highly susceptible to oxidative damage, which ultimately damages your metabolic machinery. Not surprisingly, the National Potato Council has rebuffed the findings, saying that "it is very much a stretch to brand fried potatoes, or any other form of potato, as unhealthy."25
Metabolic Mitochondrial Therapy to the Rescue
Modern food manufacturing processes have failed to improve health or increase longevity. It's time for a radical U-turn. Compelling evidence shows your net carbohydrate intake is a primary factor that determines your body's fat ratio, and processed grains and sugars (particularly fructose) are the primary culprits behind our skyrocketing obesity, diabetes and chronic disease rates.
In short, most people eat far too many processed foods, net carbs, unhealthy fats and protein — and too few healthy fats. The result is weight gain and insulin resistance. Exercise cannot compensate for the damage done by a high-carb, low-fat diet, and most do not get enough physical movement to boot. These factors set in motion metabolic and biological cascades that deteriorate your health.
In the video above, Dr. David Perlmutter26 and I discuss my No. 1 best-seller, "Fat for Fuel," released on May 16. In this book, I explain the principles of metabolic mitochondrial therapy (MMT), and the metabolic advantages you gain once your body regains the ability to burn fat for fuel. As explained in the interview, and in my book, a foundational cause of most degenerative diseases is the fact that your mitochondria, the little powerhouses located in most of your body's cells, are not receiving sufficient amounts of proper fuel.
As a result, your mitochondria start to deteriorate. Mitochondrial dysfunction lays the groundwork for subsequent breakdowns of various bodily systems. Your mitochondria are nourished by some nutrients and harmed by others. So, a healthy diet is a diet that supports mitochondrial function, and having the metabolic flexibility to burn fat is the key.
The vast majority of people on the planet who eat a primarily processed food diet are burning carbohydrates as their primary fuel, which has the devastating effect of shutting down your body's ability to burn fat.
This is why obesity is so prevalent, and why so many find it nearly impossible to lose weight and keep it off. When your body burns primarily carbs for fuel, excessive reactive oxygen species (ROS) and secondary free radicals are also created, which damage cellular mitochondrial membranes and DNA.
Healthy dietary fats, which are a cleaner-burning fuel, create far fewer ROS and free radicals. This lays the groundwork for many of the metabolic benefits of this program. Fats are also critical for the health of cellular membranes and many other biological functions.
Dietary Keys to Health
The initial strategy of my MMT program involves restricting net carbohydrates (total carbs minus fiber) to 20 to 50 grams per day until you start burning fat for fuel. To replace the lost carbs, you increase healthy fats, so that you're getting anywhere from 50 to 85 percent of your daily calories from fat. Examples of high-quality healthy fats include:
Coconuts and coconut oil (excellent for cooking as it can withstand higher temperatures without oxidizing)
Animal-based omega-3 fat from fatty fish low in mercury like wild-caught Alaskan salmon, sardines, anchovies and/or krill oil
Butter made from raw grass fed organic milk
Seeds like black sesame, cumin, pumpkin and hemp seeds
Olives and olive oil (make sure it's third party certified, as 80 percent of olive oils are adulterated with vegetable oils)
Grass fed (pastured) preferably organic and humanely raised meats. Avoid CAFO (concentrated animal feeding operation) animal products
Ghee (clarified butter), lard and tallow (excellent for cooking)
Raw cacao butter
Organic, pastured egg yolks
Fats to avoid include trans fats and highly refined polyunsaturated vegetable oils.27 I also recommend limiting protein to just what your body needs. I've previously given out the details on how to calculate your protein requirement, so for a refresher, see "Are You Sabotaging Your Health and Longevity by Eating Too Much Protein?"
It's important to emphasize that MMT is not merely adding more healthy fat to your current diet or eating as much fat as you want. It is absolutely crucial to restrict net carbs, or else you're merely increasing the number of calories you consume. Raising the amount of fat and decreasing net carbs is what pushes your body into burning fat for fuel. Eating high amounts of both fat and net carbs will NOT allow your body to make this shift, as your body will use whatever sugar is available first.
Another crucial tenet of MMT is something called feast-famine cycling. The ketogenic cycling is implemented once you're out of the initial stage and your body has regained the ability to burn fat. At that point, you begin cycling in and out of nutritional ketosis by upping your carb and protein intake once or twice a week (ideally on the days you're doing strength training).
To be successful on this program, precision is important. You cannot guess when it comes to the amount of fat, net carbs and protein you eat. In the beginning, you have to measure and track them. To do this you need:
• A digital kitchen scale to weigh food items
• Measuring cups to measure food amounts
• A nutrient tracker. I recommend using www.cronometer.com/mercola, as it is the most accurate nutrient tracker available, it's free, and it's already set up for nutritional ketosis.
Based on the personal base parameters you enter, such as height, weight, body fat percentage and waist circumference, it will automatically calculate the ideal ratios of net carbs, protein and healthy fats (including your omega-3 to omega-6 ratio) to put you into nutritional ketosis
Opportunities to Learn More
To learn more, consider joining me at one of the following live events. August 3 through 6, I will lecture at the Low Carb USA event in San Diego, along with Gary Taubes, Stephen Phinney and several other experts. You can see the entire list of invited speakers lower on the page.
I am also speaking in Florida in November. If you are a physician and are interested in learning about how you can use the ketogenic diet and other therapies for cancer, heart disease, Lyme and neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's, please be sure and come to our ACIM conference in Orlando, Florida, November 2 through 4 at the Florida Conference and Hotel Center. Early Bird price for all three days ends July 1.
If you are a patient, there will be a separate and less expensive track on the same date and location. However, you will need to come back to this page at a later date, as the registration page for the event is still unavailable.