Overweight: the need for calories decreases with age

H elmut Heseker is a nutritionist at the University of Paderborn, a member of the Executive Committee of the German Nutrition Society (DGE), and an expert on human nutritional requirements. He observes with concern how the Germans are getting fatter and fatter from year to year.

Every day they eat a little more than they actually need: sometimes 50 calories too many, sometimes 150 calories too many. This adds up over the course of months. There are 7000 calories in one kilogram of body fat. Creeping on, the pounds settle in.

Germans are oversupplied with calories and literally oversaturated. The gap between energy intake and energy consumption is constantly widening. But with every extra kilogram, the risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes increases.

"Because we are almost all overfed, an unnecessary amount of food has to be produced," says Heseker. He sees hardly any growth opportunities left for food manufacturers on the German market. On the contrary: According to Heseker’s calculations, the national calorie requirement in Germany will actually decrease in the coming decades – and with it, the demand for food.

"According to demographers’ forecasts, we will be fewer in number and older on average," says Heseker. "Both of these factors mean that we will need significantly fewer calories in Germany in the future."How the population figures actually develop, depends thereby crucially on the immigration.

If it remains at today’s level, the national demand for food energy will fall by 18 percent by 2060; if significantly more people enter the country, the decline will be correspondingly smaller, according to Heseker.

But the very fact that German society is aging, and by mid-century about one in three people will be older than 65, means fewer calories are needed. This is because older people generally have a lower energy requirement.

500 fewer calories a day

With age, the muscle mass of the body decreases. With the decrease in muscle mass, the so-called basal metabolic rate falls – i.e. the calorie requirement at rest. And as people get older, they tend to exercise less. This in turn reduces the so-called basal metabolic rate.

Heseker calculates: For a 19- to 25-year-old man, the basal metabolic rate is 1730 calories per day and continues until his 65th birthday. Life year on 1530 calories back. So they need 200 fewer calories a day. For women, the decrease is similar, but at a lower level: from 1380 to 1180 calories per day.

In addition the decrease comes with the achievement conversion, whereby again "loosely 300 calories per day less are consumed. The bottom line is that an older person needs about 500 calories a day less than a young one. If you don’t take this into account, you’ll get fatter."

"If one got used to a certain food quantity as a young person and does not reduce this with the aging, one increases almost inevitably", warns Heseker. Men put on one to 1.5 kilograms a year, women put on an average of 500 grams.

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Between the years – thus between Christmas and New Year – it can be fast again one or two Pounds additionally. The chances of getting rid of the flab on your ribs are slim: "More than 80 percent of people who are overweight once, remain so."

Still worse: Who already particularly many superfluous Pounds with itself carries, puts on particularly strongly. The number of patients with morbid obesity (Adipositas) grows constantly. "There’s no such thing as a feel-good weight, where you think now you’ve reached a certain state and that’s where you’re going to stay," says Heseker.

Most know it nevertheless actually better: Less eat, more move – in such a way reads the simple nourishing formula for removing. But it is not that simple. Heseker cites two main reasons why it’s so hard to control your weight.

On the one hand, this has to do with what Heseker calls the "stone-age genes" of humans. The body does not voluntarily give up its once stored energy reserves. In the course of evolution, it has adapted to an alternation between scarcity and abundance.

The curse of stone-age genes

Once upon a time, the people who had the best chance of survival were those who, when times were good – that is, when there was enough food – could quickly form lots of new fat cells and gain weight. In lean times they could feed on it for a long time. This survival strategy has become a curse.

Even today, the body is programmed to provide for bad times. "It’s part of our Stone Age heritage that high-energy foods with fat and sugar taste particularly good to us," Heseker explains.

But shortages no longer exist, food is constant and available in abundance. After Christmas comes Easter, then come the summer barbecue orgies and the full-board, all-you-can-eat vacations. The body cannot simply burn and eliminate its fat stores.

The only thing that helps: eat less, exercise more. But even those who eat less may consume more calories, because certain foods have an increasingly high energy density.

An important stop signal to stop eating is filling the stomach. Natural, unprocessed foods like fruits and vegetables have less than 100 calories per 100 grams. But supermarket shelves are full of highly processed and energy-dense foods that often contain 300 to 400 calories per 100 grams.

Hidden calories in pizza and co.

And according to Heseker’s observation, that’s the second reason why it’s now so difficult to keep the weight off: "By the time we reach the gastric distention that signals us to stop, we’ve already taken in far too much energy."

So often unnoticed far too many calories are consumed. This is not without consequences: From 35. From the age of 55 onwards, normal-weight men in Germany are in the minority. Year of life. Heseker considers the mandatory nutrient information on the back of food packaging in barely legible writing to be useless.

"We demand that a large, clear button be printed on the front of every package that indicates the energy density in calories per 100 grams." This figure, the DGE argues, would make it possible to compare the calorie content of different foods.

Heseker calls on food manufacturers to offer lower-calorie versions of their products. His proposal: "One pizza says 124, the other 250, and there’s another with 340 calories per 100 grams. Then the son who’s been on the soccer field all day gets the pizza with 340 calories, and the parents who work in the office take the one with 124."

Fewer calories per 100 grams

In the past decades everything was done, in order to create with the help of sugar and fat very inexpensive, tasty and still in addition well durable food. Now, says Heseker, the efforts of manufacturers must go in a different direction.

"It must also be possible to produce good-tasting food that contains significantly fewer calories," says Heseker. In the long run, this would help reduce overall calorie consumption and thus the percentage of overweight people. 75 percent of Germans put on too many pounds by the time they retire.

According to Heseker’s observations, the 25 percent of the population who manage to stay slim until retirement are mostly people from higher educational classes; lower educational classes are much more affected by overweight and obesity.

"When it comes to weight, there is a social imbalance," says Heseker. And that’s not because these people lack financial resources and can’t afford certain foods, he adds. It is rather a question of knowledge.

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"We need better nutrition education. A healthy lifestyle must be taught at an early age," demands Heseker. The advantage of such a measure would be that it could truly reach all segments of the population.

Heseker also believes that a fat and sugar tax would be a "promising instrument". The cost could be controlled via the price, and the additional income could be used specifically for prevention.

Especially among migrants, overweight is a frequent problem. "A targeted approach as part of the integration courses would be important," says Heseker. Pregnant women would be particularly receptive to relevant information.

In some countries of origin, the idea that formula is better than breastfeeding is widespread, he says. Pregnancy, says Heseker, is an important phase for nutritional prevention.

Obesity lowers life expectancy

Obesity today runs through the entire life span of humans – from pregnancy to old age. "This is a very new aspect in human history, that we have so many pregnant women giving birth to overweight children," says Heseker. Fat children usually become fat adults with corresponding diet-related diseases.

Thanks to medical progress, life expectancy is still increasing. But there are already projections from Great Britain, according to which this development could be overturned and life expectancy could fall again. Heseker warns: "Those who are obese at 40 have a significantly reduced life expectancy by five to eight years."

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