Commonly overlooked consequences of malnutrition among people who are obese

Malnutrition is not only a problem for people without enough to eat, it also increasingly affects people who are obese.

“Malnourishment is surprisingly and exceedingly common,” said Dr. Andrew M. Freeman, a cardiologist at National Jewish Health.

Freeman is a co-author of an editorial accompanying a study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology that found that it is increasingly likely people can be overweight but still undernourished because of a poor diet.

“The study authors were able to determine that a large proportion of people who were overweight with coronary disease actually were malnourished,” Freeman said.

Malnutrition associated with obesity may be related to food quality.

“If you eat a lot of shelf staple — processed carbs and processed foods — it’s easy to put on the pounds because they’re calorie-dense and extremely purified,” he said.

Freeman sees the study findings as a call to action for people and their doctors to learn how nutrition can affect people’s everyday lives.

“Even Hippocrates, the founder of modern medicine, said, ‘Let food be thy medicine.’ He was also a big proponent of exercise, and here we are hundreds of years later saying the same thing,” Freeman said.

Freeman said malnutrition among obese individuals can contribute to serious health complications, such as diabetes, hypertension and heart disease.

He recommends everyone eat a mostly whole food, plant-based and minimally processed diet.

“When we eat the way nature intended, which is all the stuff that grows, our nutrients are complete; our vitamins are complete,” he said.

Freeman points out that eons ago, people didn’t pop pills of multivitamins, and they had nutritional balance, “And we can too, if we take the effort to do it.”

“As much as a microwave frozen pizza may be delicious, it might be better to eat a salad with all the different bright-colored fruits and vegetables to get all those nutrients, so that we are not malnourished, but we’ll also start to feel better,” he said.

Another suggestion from Freeman is to measure your body mass Index that’s determined using a formula based on weight versus height. If your BMI determines you’re overweight or obese, Freeman suggests having a talk with your doctor about addressing it.

“Something like 75% of the budget we spend every year on health care is preventable disease, and a large proportion of that is through lifestyle,” Freeman said.

To improve your health and quality of life, Freeman recommends examining what’s going on in your everyday living, related to things such as diet, exercise, sleep patterns and stress.

Kristi King

Kristi King is a veteran reporter who has been working in the WTOP newsroom since 1990. She covers everything from breaking news to consumer concerns and the latest medical developments.

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