Over the last three decades the prevalence of obesity has steadily increased and now 42.4% of Americans are obese. Generation X (those born between 1960 and 1980) is the most obese generation to date with an obesity rate of 44.8% in 2018 (www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/databriefs/db360-h.pdf). This trend doesn't seem to be slowing or reversing anytime. It is estimated that by by 2030, 51% of the population will be obese, with a 130% increase in severe obesity (www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0749379712001468). People who are obese are at increased risk for many serious diseases and health conditions, including: death, hypertension, dyslipidemia, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, gall bladder disease, osteoarthritis, sleep apnea, several cancers, body pain, difficulty with physical function, depression, anxiety and other mental health disorders (www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/effects/index.html).
Sarcopenia is a condition characterized by loss of skeletal muscle mass and function. Although it is primarily a disease of the elderly, its development may be associated with conditions that are not exclusively seen in older persons. Sarcopenia is a syndrome characterized by progressive and generalized loss of skeletal muscle mass and strength and it is strictly correlated with physical disability, poor quality of life and death. Risk factors for sarcopenia include age, gender and level of physical activity (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4269139/).
Beginning as early as the 4th decade of life, evidence suggests that skeletal muscle mass and skeletal muscle strength decline in a linear fashion, with up to 50% of mass being lost by the 8th decade of life . Given that muscle mass accounts for up to 60% of body mass, pathological changes to this important metabolically active tissue can have profound consequences on the older adult. The consequences of sarcopenia are often severe in older adults, as the strength and functional declines associated with sarcopenia can in turn contribute to a number of adverse health outcomes, including loss of function, disability, and frailty (www.ncbi.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4066461/).
The combination of increasing body fat and continual loss of muscle mass
results in worsening body composition at all ages. This syndrome is not limited to the 40 or 50-somethings, there is the growing prevalence in teenagers, 20, and 30 year-olds. We have seen a dramatic acceleration in the last few years with COVID-19 lockdowns, increased stress, sleep disturbances, discouraged physical activity, increased use of technology, and loss of the physicality of modern life and societal acceptance of obesity.
The new normal is a life of physical comfort, increased mental stress and anxiety, social isolation, continual mental stimulation, and use of highly abundant processed foods to medicate ourselves. We are all growing larger, weaker and sicker. Just about all of us are surrounded by this environment and we have grown accustom to seeing a close to 50% rate of obesity in the people around us.
Ironically, Photoshopped or highly-filtered images bombard us on social media and in traditional print and digital media leaves us with a complicated feelings of angst, depression, and body dysmorphia. These feeling also make us even more gullible and desperate for the $71 billion diet and weight loss industries' latest quick-fix solution.
We have evolved with sophisticated neurological circuitry that allowed us to survive and make progress in a challenging world. For thousands of years, we relied on having built-in mechanisms to keep us safe, allow us go grow into adulthood and pass on our genes. Up until the last three decades, these mechanisms worked well. However, the world has rapidly changed in so many ways that these mechanisms are now failing us. In order to thrive in our current world, we need understand these mechanisms and implement a new operating systems.
Not very long ago, we had no choice but undergo hours of physical labor just to make it through the day. So the innate tendency to find the easiest path or most efficient methods served us very well. We conserved energy and for pretty much guarantee of more labor the next day. Gradually we figured out how to engineer our environment to reduce the work we had to do. Now, in a given day, most of us don't even take 1000 steps or lift anything heavier than five pounds. What percent of adults don't even make the trek to the grocery store anymore, let alone hunt or farm their own food?
We've been told over and over that pain is bad and every day we try to minimize it or avoid it. Joint pain? Don't move and take a pill to lessen the pain. Fail and learn a painful lesson? Good, this produces intellectual and mental growth.
Pleasurefull activities were few and far between and they were usually associated with something good for us. Now, we have a continual stream of pleasure so we are never bored or understimulated.