New Parma / november-december 2012

Being overweight is a problem which is now affecting almost all western countries. If on the outer side our ‘Mediterranean diet’ seems to keep us safe from this widespread epidemics, the truth is that also Italian population is getting fatter and fatter. Our children are almost the fattest of all Europe and this reveals a rather worrying scenario, since today’s obese children will be tomorrow’s heart-patients and diabetics. Moreover, for the first time in the history of humanity, this might result into a drop in life expectancy for future generations.

It is probable that the awareness of this problem, together with some pure aesthetic reasons, might have awakened public opinion, which is now trying to find solutions above all through ‘miraculous diets’. In recent years, as never before, we have witnessed an amazing success in the sales of books on ‘healthy diets’, slimming and related topics – for instance the sensational sales of the series dedicated to the ‘Dukan diet’. And then comes the whole business around slimming: besides publications, we have slimming products, accessories or tools, slimming centres and so on and so forth. All this creates an endless yo-yo wherein the consumer first gets fat, then gets thin, then gets fat again, until he definitely becomes ill. The problem is that these media successes are nothing but marketing operations which cannot and do not want to consider the biochemical and metabolic specificity of each person. On the contrary, they suggest the same extreme and standardised methods for everybody, which cannot make consumers learn that a necessary healthy life style is indispensable for the preservation of the result.

The conventional approach of a cure for everybody or a diet for everybody is a failure and by this time we should admit that the key factor is nothing but our biochemical specificity. This concept takes its moves from the fact that each person has a unique biochemical and physiological composition, based on the interaction of the person’s own genes with the environment, which means a continuous exposition to certain stimuli such as eating habits, physical exercise, toxins, stress. We are born as we are, but we reflect the way we eat, the way we move, the way we think. The combination of all these factors is what brings to all the morphological and phenotypical differentiations we see every day. The only possible intervention must be a personalised one and aimed at making our eating habits and lifestyles more fitted to our necessities. Not meeting our individual necessities might result, in future, into chronic diseases. Obesity itself, for instance, may be one of these – a pathological situation connected to endocrine alterations and an inflammatory state (our tissue is an endocrine organ which produces oestrogens and inflammatory cytokines), favouring also chronic-degenerative diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, osteoarticular problems and tumours.

The etiopathogenesis of obesity has many causes and three main factors contribute to it: genetic predispositions, environmental factors and wrong lifestyles. Among the latter, we could count the imbalance between caloric intake and the calories burned throughout the day; lack of physical exercise which brings to a metabolic slackening and a reduction of energy; psychological factors such as stress, depression, lack of sleep. Among the environmental factors there is surely the exposition to some endocrine-disrupting chemicals (pesticides) or other agents causing breathing problems (fine dusts). Lastly, a diet rich in saturated fats, refined sugar, lacking micro-nutrients and with a low consumption of fibres is yet another factor favouring overweight.

If we tackle the problem of overweight by considering only one of these factors, such as our eating habits, for instance, we might perhaps win the first battle, but we will surely lose the war. The only way we have to defeat overweight and the chronic diseases related to it is by gaining a deeper insight into a healthier and fitter lifestyle, which must comprehend a suitable diet, well balanced physical exercise, targeted and personalised food integration, stress management and, if necessary, hormone balancing.

Such behaviours should be put in practice and function as awakening tools, stimulating us to change our lifestyles. We cannot think to solve a problem by keeping on doing what has caused this problem; however it is strange how people always seem to think that things might change by keeping on doing the same things over and over again.