What is obesity?
The definition of obesity varies depending on what you read. In general, being overweight and obese indicates a higher than healthy weight. Obesity is a chronic condition defined by an excessive amount of body fat. A certain amount of body fat is necessary to store energy, insulate heat, absorb shock, and other functions.
The body mass index better defines obesity. A person’s height and weight determine their body mass index. Body Mass Index (BMI) is equal to a person’s weight in kilograms (kg) divided by their height in meters (m) squared (more information will be found later in the article). Since BMI describes body weight about height, there is a strong correlation with total body fat content in adults. An adult who has a BMI of 25-29.9 is overweight and an adult who has a BMI greater than 30 is obese. A person with a BMI of 18.5-24.9 is of normal weight. A person is morbidly obese (extremely obese) if their BMI is over 40.
How common is obesity?
Obesity has touched epidemic proportions in the United States. More than two-thirds of adults are overweight or obese, and one in three Americans is obese. The occurrence of obesity in children has increased markedly. Obesity has also risen rapidly around the world, and the incidence of obesity nearly doubled between 1991 and 1998. In 2015, nearly 40% of adults were obese in the US.
Causes of obesity
The main cause of obesity and overweight is an energy imbalance between calories consumed and calories expended. Globally, there has been:
- An improved intake of energy-dense foods that are high in fat and sugars; and
- An increase in physical idleness due to the increasingly sedentary nature of many forms of work, changing modes of transportation, and increasing urbanization.
Vicissitudes in dietary and physical activity patterns are often the result of environmental and societal variations associated with the development and lack of supportive policies in sectors such as health, agriculture, transport, urban preparation, environment, food processing, distribution, marketing, and education.
Obesity is usually the result of a combination of causes and contributing factors:
Heredity and family influences
The genes you inherit from your parents can affect how much body fat you store and where that fat is distributed. Genetics can also influence how efficiently your body converts food into energy, how your body regulates your appetite, and how your body burns calories during exercise.
Obesity tends to run in families. That’s not just since of the genes they share. Family members also tend to share alike eating and activity habits.
- Unhealthy diet: A high-calorie diet, without fruits and vegetables, filled with fast food and loaded with high-calorie drinks and oversized portions contributes to weight gain.
- Liquid calories: People can drink a lot of calories without feeling full, especially those from alcohol. Other high-calorie drinks, like sugary sodas, can contribute to significant weight gain.
- Inactivity: If you have a sedentary lifestyle, you can easily eat more calories every day than you burn through exercise and routine daily activities. Looking at the screen of a computer, tablet, and the phone is a sedentary activity. The amount of hours you spend in front of a screen is highly associated with weight gain.
Certain diseases and medications
In some people, obesity can be attributed to a medical cause, such as Prader-Willi syndrome, Cushing syndrome, and other conditions. Medical problems, such as arthritis, can also cause decreased activity, which can lead to weight gain.
Some medications can lead to weight gain if not compensated for by diet or activity. These medications contain some antidepressants, anti-seizure medications, diabetes medications, antipsychotic medications, steroids, and beta-blockers.
Social and economic problems
Social and economic factors are related to obesity. Avoiding obesity is difficult if you don’t have safe areas to walk or exercise. Similarly, you may not have been taught healthy ways to cook or you may not have access to healthier foods. Also, the people you spend time with can influence your weight; you are more likely to develop obesity if you have friends or family members who are obese.
Obesity can occur at any age, even in young children. But as you age, hormonal changes and a less active lifestyle increase your danger of obesity. Also, the amount of muscle in your body inclines to decrease with age. Generally, less muscle mass leads to a decrease in metabolism. These changes also lower calorie needs and can make it harder to shed excess weight. If you don’t consciously control what you eat and become more physically active as you age, you are likely to gain weight.
- The pregnancy: Weight gain is common during pregnancy. Some women find it hard to lose this weight afterward the baby is born. This weight gain can contribute to the development of obesity in women. Breastfeeding may be the best option for losing weight gained during pregnancy.
- Give up smoking: Quitting smoking is often associated with weight gain. And for some, it can main to sufficient weight gain to qualify as obesity. Often this happens when people consume food to cope with smoking withdrawal. However, in the long term, quitting smoking is still a greater benefit to your health than continuing to smoke. Your doctor can help you prevent weight gain after you quit smoking.
- Lack of sleep: Not getting enough sleep or sleeping too much can cause changes in hormones that increase your appetite. You may also have cravings for foods high in calories and carbohydrates, which can contribute to weight gain.
- Stress: Many external factors that affect your mood and well-being can contribute to obesity. People often look to higher calorie foods when they are experiencing stressful situations.
- Microbiome: Your gut bacteria are affected by what you eat and can contribute to weight gain or difficulty losing weight.
- Previous attempts at weight loss: Previous attempts for weight loss followed by rapid weight regain can contribute to further weight gain. This phenomenon, sometimes called a yo-yo diet, can slow down your metabolism.
Symptoms of obesity
There are no specific symptoms of overweight and obesity. Signs of being overweight and obese include a high body mass index (BMI) and an unhealthy body fat distribution that can be estimated by measuring your waist circumference. Obesity can cause complications in many parts of your body.
How is obesity diagnosed?
BMI is a rough estimate of a person’s weight about their height.
Other more accurate measurements of body fat and body fat distribution include:
- Skinfold thickness testing
- Waist-to-hip comparisons
- Screening tests, such as ultrasounds, CT scans, and MRIs
Your physician may also order certain tests to help diagnose obesity-related health risks. These may include:
- Blood tests to check cholesterol and glucose levels
- Liver function tests
- A diabetes test
- Thyroid tests
- Heart tests, or an electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG)
- A dimension of the fat around your waist is also a good predictor of your risk for obesity-related diseases.
Treatment for obesity
Treatment for overweight and obesity be contingent on the cause and severity of your condition. Possible treatments include healthy lifestyle changes, behavioral weight-loss treatment programs, medications, and possibly surgery. You may need treatments for any complications you have.
Obesity can cause more than just weight gain. Having a high body fat-to-muscle ratio puts pressure on bones and internal organs. It also increases irritation in the body, which is supposed to be a risk factor for cancer. Obesity is also the main risk factor for type 2 diabetes.
Obesity has been linked to several health complications, some of which can be life-threatening if left untreated:
- Type 2 diabetes
- Heart disease
- Certain cancers (breast, colon, and endometrium)
- Gallbladder disease
- Fatty liver disease
- High cholesterol
- Sleep apnea and other breathing problems
Whether you are at risk for obesity, currently overweight, or at a healthy weight, you can take steps to prevent unhealthy weight gain and related health problems. Not surprisingly, the steps to preventing weight gain are the same as the steps to losing weight: daily exercise, a healthy diet, and a long-term commitment to watching what you eat and drink.
- Get regular exercise: You should get 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity activity a week to avoid weight gain. Abstemiously intense physical activities include inpatient walking and swimming.
- Follow a healthy eating plan: Focus on low-calorie, nutrient-dense foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Avoid saturated fat and limit sweets and alcohol. Eat three even meals a day with limited snacks. You can still enjoy small amounts of foods that are high in fat and calories as a rare treat. Just be sure to select foods that endorse a healthy weight and good health most of the time.
- Know and avoid the food traps that make you eat: Identify situations that lead to uncontrolled eating. Try to keep a journal and write down what you eat, how much you eat, when you eat, how you feel, and how hungry you are. After a while, you should see patterns emerge. You can plan and develop strategies to handle these types of situations and stay in control of your eating behaviors.
- Check your weight regularly: People who weigh themselves at least once a week are more successful at maintaining excess weight. Monitoring your weight can tell you if your efforts are working and can help you spot small weight gains before they become big problems.
- Be consistent: Sticking to your healthy weight plan throughout the week, on weekends, and during vacations and holidays as much as likely increases your chances of long-term success.