Obesity is a term used to describe body weight that is much greater than what is healthy. If you are obese, you also have a much higher amount of body fat than is healthy or desirable.
Adults with a body mass index (BMI) between 25 and 29.9 are considered overweight. Adults with a BMI greater than or equal to 30 are considered obese. Anyone who is more than 100 pounds overweight or who has a BMI greater than or equal to 40 is considered morbidly obese.
Over the last two decades, there has been a dramatic rise in obesity rates in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 49 states – with Colorado the lone exception – have more than 20% of their populations classified as obese.
Remember that catching the problem early is much simpler than trying to fix it after the person has gained an excessive amount of weight.
Obesity is a significant health threat. The extra weight puts added stress on all parts of your body. Medical problems commonly resulting from untreated obesity and morbid obesity include:
- Type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome
- High blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke
- Obstructive sleep apnea and other sleep disorders
- Certain cancers, including breast cancer and colorectal cancer
- Bone and joint issues, including osteoarthritis
Extreme obesity can lead to a gradual decrease in the level of oxygen in your blood, a condition called hypoxemia. Decreased blood oxygen levels and sleep apnea may cause a person to feel sleepy during the day. These conditions may also lead to high blood pressure and pulmonary hypertension. In extreme cases, especially when left untreated, this can lead to right-sided heart failure and ultimately death.
Causes and risk factors
Taking in more calories than you burn leads to being overweight and, eventually, obesity. The body stores unused calories as fat. Obesity can be the result of:
- Eating more food than your body can use
- Drinking too much alcohol
- Not getting enough exercise
An underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism) may lead to five to 10 pounds of weight gain. Some antidepressants and antipsychotic medicines may also contribute to weight gain and obesity. Genetic factors play some part in the development of obesity – children of obese parents are 10 times more likely to be obese than children with parents of normal weight. People who are at higher risk for obesity include:
- Lower income groups
- Former smokers
- People with chronic mental illness
- People with disabilities
- People with a sedentary lifestyle
Signs and tests
The health care provider will perform a physical exam and ask questions about your medical history, eating habits, and exercise routine. Skin fold measurements may be taken to check your body fat percentage. Blood tests may be done to look for thyroid or endocrine problems, which could lead to weight gain.
Regular exercise and a healthy diet are crucial when it comes to controlling your weight. Although there are many programs advertised to help you lose weight, the only method proven safe over the long-term is to burn more calories than you consume. Exercising and eating right must become as much a part of your routine as bathing and brushing your teeth. Unless you are convinced of the benefits, you will not succeed.
For more information on the Benefits of Fitness, click here.
Most people can lose weight by eating a healthier diet and exercising more. Even modest weight loss can improve your health. Sticking to a weight reduction program is not easy. You will need a lot of support from family and friends.
When dieting, your main goal should be to learn new, healthy ways of eating and make them a part of your everyday routine. Learn to read the nutrition labels and ingredients of all the foods you eat.
Work with your health care provider and dietitian to set realistic, safe daily calorie counts that help you lose weight while staying healthy. Remember that if you drop pounds slowly and steadily, you are more likely to keep them off. Your dietitian can teach you about healthy food choices, portion sizes, and new ways to prepare food.
Extreme diets (fewer than 1,100 calories per day) are not thought to be safe or to work very well.
- These types of diets often do not contain enough vitamins and minerals.
- People who are on these diets may experience symptoms such as fatigue, feeling cold most of the time, hair loss, or dizziness.
- There is a risk for gallbladder stones, changes in menstrual periods, and rarely, dangerous heart rhythms.
- Most people who lose weight this way return to overeating and become obese again.
Other changes can have an impact on your weight loss success:
- Eat only at the table. No snacking in front of the TV, in bed, while driving, or while standing in front of the open refrigerator.
- Learn about appropriate portion sizes.
- Choose low-calorie snacks, such as raw vegetables.
- Learn new ways to manage stress, rather than snacking. Examples may be meditation, yoga, or exercise.
- Keep a diet and exercise journal. This may help you identify overeating triggers in your life.
- If you are depressed, seek medical treatment rather than eating excessively to help cope with your depression.
- Find a support group or consider psychotherapy to help you achieve your weight loss goal.
To lose weight, you must burn more calories than you eat. Exercise is a key way to do this. Walking a mile a day for 30 days will help you burn off one pound of fat, as long as you don’t eat more than usual.
If you have not been active, start slowly and build up over weeks or even months. Walking can be a good exercise to start with. Talk to your health care provider before starting.
Every week, increase the amount of time you spend doing the activity. Do it more often or add a second activity. You can increase the speed or difficulty of the activity (for example, by going up hills). All adults should get 2 1/2 hours of aerobic exercise each week. Spread the exercise out over the week. Exercise for at least 10 minutes at a time.
- Find ways to increase your activity level very day.
- Walk instead of driving. If you have to drive, park several blocks away from your destination.
- Climb stairs instead of using an elevator or escalator.
- Do other house activities, such as gardening.
In addition to burning off extra calories, exercise will also:
- Lift your mood and help with stress and anxiety
- Make your bones stronger
- Reduce your chance of having a heart attack or stroke
- Help you manage high blood pressure and cholesterol
Weight Loss Surgeries
In extreme cases, some people opt to undergo weight-loss surgeries. It is important to note that surgery alone is not the answer for weight loss and that surgery of any type can lead to complications and have side effects. Talk to your doctor to learn more.
The two most common weight-loss surgeries are:
Laparoscopic gastric banding – A surgeon places a band around the upper part of the stomach, creating a small area which holds food. The band limits how much food you eat, providing the sensation that you feel full after eating smaller portions.
Gastric bypass surgery – This procedure changes how your stomach and small intestine handle the food you eat. You will not be able to eat as much as before, and your body will not absorb all the calories and other nutrients from the food you eat.
For more information about how to maintain a healthy weight and proper weight management techniques, click here.