The topic of obesity inspires quite a bit of discussion, as well it should.  The claim that North America is currently experiencing an obesity “epidemic”, a claim oftentimes mentioned by the media, is not hyperbole.  Indeed, weight management has become such a global issue that the World Health Organization (WHO) has also termed the problem an “epidemic”.

Here are some facts that may put the problem with obesity in clearer perspective.  In the United States, over 65% of the adult population is overweight.  In Canada, meanwhile, roughly 40 to 60% of adults are struggling with a weight problem.  As reported by the Center for Disease Control (CDC), between 1980 and 2000, obesity rates in the United States doubled among adults.  Even more alarming, childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and more than quadrupled in adolescents over the past thirty years, based on figures also reported by the CDC.

In trying to find a solution to the rise in obesity rates, many have subscribed various reasons to why people are obese.  Some have considered obesity to be an addiction and, therefore, something that can be treated like any other type of addiction.  Others have subscribed the rise in obesity to the fact that North Americans no longer exercise regularly and have more sedentary jobs.

Sean Wharton argues something entirely different.  An internal medicine specialist who studied under Dr. Arya Sharma, Sean Wharton now runs the government-funded Wharton Medical Clinic in Canada.  Having studied and worked with obesity for more than a decade, Dr. Sean Wharton argues that instead of obesity being caused by one particular reason, obesity is a multi-factorial problem.

What does that mean?

What Dr. Wharton means is that obesity is caused by various factors that include genetics, level of exercise, and diet, among others.

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In a radio broadcast recorded several years ago, Dr. Sean Wharton described what he means by a obesity being a multi-factorial problem in this way:

… so it’s not so much whether [obesity’s] an addiction or not … the thing is that it is a multi-factorial problem.  So, it’s a medical problem.  And the medical problem itself has multiple different causes, endocrinology problems, like either thyroid problems or disorder eating, or emotional problems, or just a genetic predisposition to hang on to weight.  So, it’s not just about addiction, it’s about a multiple of things.

Dr. Sean Wharton’s multi-factorial stance also plays a significant role in how he and his team treat obesity at the Wharton Medical Clinic.  Understanding that weight management is influenced by a number of factors, Dr. Wharton and his team of internal medicine specialists approach weight loss on a number of fronts, including improving a patient’s diet, monitoring and reducing the risk for co-morbidities, like stroke and hypertension, and creating an executable exercise routine.

Those who struggle with weight management not only debate why they are obese, but also how to go about losing weight.  In considering these questions, some will consider the effectiveness of commercial weight loss programs and whether they are healthy and can actually help achieve long-term weight loss.

There are plenty of opinions on commercial diet programs.  It’s interesting to note that Dr. Sharma and Dr. Wharton do not dismiss commercial weight loss programs outright.  However, what many internal medicine specialists caution against, including Dr. Sharma and Dr. Wharton, is the yo-yoing affect that many commercial programs cause.

“In my professional view, obesity is a medical problem,” says Sean Wharton, “and it deserves a multi-disciplined treatment by internal medicine specialists.  Moreover, healthy weight management should be geared toward long-term treatment, as opposed to rapid weight loss.  Commercial weight loss programs that promote or promise rapid weight loss, in my mind, are not only suspect, but will probably causing a yo-yoing, weight-loss-weight-gain pattern that is very unhealthy to the body.”