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HomeHealth A-Z Obesity
A person with a BMI of 30 or more is considered obese.



Definition of Obesity

Obesity is the condition of having an excessive amount of body fat for one's height, usually determined when the body mass index (BMI) is 30 or more.

Description of Obesity

Obesity occurs when a person is overweight by an amount that is much greater than what is considered healthy. Body weight is a combination of fat, muscle, bone and body water. When a person is obese, it is usually due to an excessive amount of body fat. Body fat accumulates when a person eats more calories than the body uses. The excess calories get stored as fat, which over time leads to a person becoming overweight and eventually obese.

It is estimated that nearly two-thirds of the US population is overweight and that the amount of people considered obese is increasing. Of special concern is that obesity is not only occurring in adults, but in children as well. Over the past twenty years the amount of overweight children has doubled and the amount of adolescents who are obese has tripled.

Obesity is dangerous because it has many negative affects on a persons health, longevity and overall quality of life. Obesity increases a person's risk of developing many serious health conditions, including diabetes, heart disease, high cholesterol, high blood pressure (hypertension), stroke, kidney failure, gallbladder disease, osteoarthritis, sleep apnea, and may increase the risk for some types of cancer. In men, it increases the chance of developing rectal, colon and prostate cancers. In women, obesity increases the risk of gallbladder, breast, ovarian, uterine and cervical cancers.

Causes and Risk Factors of Obesity

There are three basic factors that cause or contribute to the development of obesity either individually or in combination. The causes and risk factors of obesity are genetics, excess calories, and lack of adequate physical activity.

Genetics can play an indirect part in the development of obesity and may affect why some people seem to gain weight more easily than others. Genes have also been found to influence a person's appetite, leading some people to overeat because they feel hungry, while others eat less because they feel full with less food. Overall, a child of obese parents is ten times more likely to become obese than if the child had parents of normal weight. Although genetics is a factor linked with obesity, it is important to state that simply because a person has obese parents it does not mean that he or she must accept obesity as inevitable.

The regular intake of excess calories and fatty foods is another cause of obesity. People who tend to eat foods that are high in fat and contain a high amount of calories are more likely to gain weight than people who have a healthier diet. When a person consumes more calories than the body needs, the excess is stored as fat. Obesity does not appear overnight, it develops over time when there is a continual consumption of excess calories. It takes about 3,500 excess calories to gain one pound of weight and very few people gain more than two to five pounds each year.

Lack of regular physical activity is another contributing cause of obesity. People who are active and follow a daily exercise regime are less likely to gain weight than people who live a sedentary lifestyle.

Symptoms of Obesity

The symptom of obesity is the condition of being extremely overweight for ones height.

Diagnosis of Obesity

Obesity is usually diagnosed using the body mass index (BMI). The BMI gives an accurate measurement of a persons body fat, taking into account both height and weight. The BMI can be used to determine if a person is at a healthy weight, overweight, or obese.

A person with a BMI of 18.5 to 25 is considered to have a healthy weight. A person with a BMI of 25 to 30 is considered overweight. A person with a BMI of 30 or more is considered obese. A person more than 100 pounds overweight is considered morbidly obese. While the BMI is an accurate assessment of health and weight for most people, there are some athletes who have a high BMI measurement but are not considered overweight because their weight is due to muscle not fat. The formula for determining a persons BMI is (weight in pounds) divided by (height in inches squared).

Another quick assessment of ones condition is the waist measurement. The risk of obesity related health problems increases with fat around the waist. Women should aim for a waist measurement of 35 inches or less and men should aim for a waist measurement of 40 inches or less.

Treatment of Obesity

Treatment of obesity focuses on lifestyle changes with the purpose of losing weight. It takes commitment and support to successfully lose the excess pounds. People trying to overcome obesity should talk to their doctor about diet, exercise, and weight loss surgery options. There are also many other helpful resources for people trying to lose weight thru diet and exercise, including weight loss centers, weight loss diets, nutritionists, exercise coaches, personal trainers, and health related books.

Bariatric surgery (weight loss surgery) is another option that doctors may recommend for patients that have been unable to lose weight thru diet and exercise alone, but it should be considered a last resort. Bariatric surgery is surgery on the stomach and/or intestines that will help patients lose weight, but it is not a magic cure. It still requires patients to adopt a more active lifestyle and eat a healthier diet. Bariatric surgery works on the premise that less food can be eaten at one time and/or less food can be absorbed by the body.

Prevention of Obesity

Obesity can be prevented if a person adopts a healthy low-fat diet and participates in regular physical activity.

A healthy diet consists of low-fat foods, whole grain products, lean protein choices, and a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. Foods to be avoided include saturated fat, trans fats, sugar, white and enriched flour products.

Physical activity can be any form of exercise, from walking to team sports. It is important to find an activity that you enjoy so that you stick with it, whether it is yoga, aerobics, weight lifting, basketball, or bicycle riding. Adults should aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise a day and children should get about 60 minutes of physical activity a day. Exercise is both healthy for your body and burns calories. Building muscle also helps to burn calories, so you burn more calories even when you are not exercising.

External Resources

American Obesity Association

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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