Obesity: Facts, Causes and Treatments

picture of weight loss obesity

Obesity is a condition where a person has accumulated so much body fat that it might have a negative effect on their health.

If a person’s bodyweight is at least 20% higher than it should be, he or she is considered obese. If your Body Mass Index (BMI) is between 25 and 29.9 you are considered overweight. If your BMI is 30 or over you are considered obese.

Obesity occurs over time when you eat more calories than you use. The balance between calories-in and calories-out differs for each person. Factors that might affect your weight include your genetic makeup, overeating, eating high-fat foods, and not being physically active.

Being obese increases your risk of diabetes, heart disease, stroke, arthritis, and some cancers. If you are obese, losing even 5 to 10 percent of your weight can delay or prevent some of these diseases. For example, that means losing 10 to 20 pounds if you weigh 200 pounds.

Obesity Facts

  • Obesity means having excess body fat. For adults 35 and older, having a BMI greater than 30 is considered obese.
  • Obesity is not just a cosmetic consideration. It is a chronic medical disease that can lead to diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, gallstones, and other chronic illnesses.
  • Obesity has also been linked to increased risk for a number of cancers.
  • Obesity is difficult to treat and has a high relapse rate. Most people who lose weight regain the weight within five years.
  • Even though medications and diets can help, the treatment of obesity cannot be a short-term “fix” but has to be a lifelong commitment to proper diet habits, increased physical activity, and regular exercise.
  • The goal of treatment should be to achieve and maintain a “healthier weight,” not necessarily an ideal weight.
  • Even a modest weight loss of 5%-10% of initial weight and the long-term maintenance of that weight loss can bring significant health benefits by lowering blood pressure and lowering the risks of diabetes and heart disease.
  • The chances of long-term successful weight loss are enhanced if the doctor works with a team of professionals, including dietitians, psychologists, and exercise professionals.

Causes of Obesity

Although there are genetic, behavioral and hormonal influences on body weight, obesity occurs when you take in more calories than you burn through exercise and normal daily activities. Your body stores these excess calories as fat.

Obesity can sometimes be traced to a medical cause, such as Prader-Willi syndrome, Cushing’s syndrome, and other diseases and conditions. However, these disorders are rare and, in general, the principal causes of obesity are:

  • Inactivity. If you’re not very active, you don’t burn as many calories. With a sedentary lifestyle, you can easily take in more calories every day than you use through exercise and normal daily activities.
  • Unhealthy diet and eating habits. Weight gain is inevitable if you regularly eat more calories than you burn. And most Americans’ diets are too high in calories and are full of fast food and high-calorie beverages.

What are the health risks associated with obesity

Obesity usually results from a combination of causes and contributing factors, including:

  • Genetics. Your genes may affect the amount of body fat you store, and where that fat is distributed. Genetics may also play a role in how efficiently your body converts food into energy and how your body burns calories during exercise.
  • Family lifestyle. Obesity tends to run in families. If one or both of your parents are obese, your risk of being obese is increased. That’s not just because of genetics. Family members tend to share similar eating and activity habits.
  • Inactivity. If you’re not very active, you don’t burn as many calories. With a sedentary lifestyle, you can easily take in more calories every day than you burn through exercise and routine daily activities. Having medical problems, such as arthritis, can lead to decreased activity, which contributes to weight gain.
  • Unhealthy diet. A diet that’s high in calories, lacking in fruits and vegetables, full of fast food, and laden with high-calorie beverages and oversized portions contributes to weight gain.
  • Medical problems. In some people, obesity can be traced to a medical cause, such as Prader-Willi syndrome, Cushing’s syndrome and other conditions. Medical problems, such as arthritis, also can lead to decreased activity, which may result in weight gain.
  • Certain medications. Some medications can lead to weight gain if you don’t compensate through diet or activity. These medications include some antidepressants, anti-seizure medications, diabetes medications, antipsychotic medications, steroids and beta blockers.
  • Social and economic issues. Research has linked social and economic factors to obesity. Avoiding obesity is difficult if you don’t have safe areas to exercise. Similarly, you may not have been taught healthy ways of cooking, or you may not have money to buy healthier foods. In addition, the people you spend time with may influence your weight  you’re more likely to become obese if you have obese friends or relatives.
  • Age. Obesity can occur at any age, even in young children. But as you age, hormonal changes and a less active lifestyle increase your risk of obesity. In addition, the amount of muscle in your body tends to decrease with age. This lower muscle mass leads to a decrease in metabolism. These changes also reduce calorie needs, and can make it harder to keep off excess weight. If you don’t consciously control what you eat and become more physically active as you age, you’ll likely gain weight.
  • Pregnancy. During pregnancy, a woman’s weight necessarily increases. Some women find this weight difficult to lose after the baby is born. This weight gain may contribute to the development of obesity in women.
  • Quitting smoking. Quitting smoking is often associated with weight gain. And for some, it can lead to enough weight gain that the person becomes obese. In the long run, however, quitting smoking is still a greater benefit to your health than continuing to smoke.
  • Lack of sleep. Not getting enough sleep or getting too much sleep can cause changes in hormones that increase your appetite. You may also crave foods high in calories and carbohydrates, which can contribute to weight gain.

Even if you have one or more of these risk factors, it doesn’t mean that you’re destined to become obese. You can counteract most risk factors through diet, physical activity and exercise, and behavior changes.

How Are Overweight and Obesity Treated?

Successful weight-loss treatments include setting goals and making lifestyle changes, such as eating fewer calories and being physically active. Medicines and weight-loss surgery also are options for some people if lifestyle changes aren’t enough.

Set Realistic Goals

Setting realistic weight-loss goals is an important first step to losing weight.

For Adults

  • Try to lose 5 to 10 percent of your current weight over 6 months. This will lower your risk for coronary heart disease (CHD) and other conditions.
  • The best way to lose weight is slowly. A weight loss of 1 to 2 pounds a week is do-able, safe, and will help you keep off the weight. It also will give you the time to make new, healthy lifestyle changes.
  • If you’ve lost 10 percent of your body weight, have kept it off for 6 months, and are still overweight or obese, you may want to consider further weight loss.

For Children and Teens

  • If your child is overweight or at risk for overweight or obesity, the goal is to maintain his or her current weight and to focus on eating healthy and being physically active. This should be part of a family effort to make lifestyle changes.
  • If your child is overweight or obese and has a health condition related to overweight or obesity, your doctor may refer you to a pediatric obesity treatment center.

Lifestyle Changes

Lifestyle changes can help you and your family achieve long-term weight-loss success. Example of lifestyle changes include:

  • Focusing on balancing energy IN (calories from food and drinks) with energy OUT (physical activity)
  • Following a healthy eating plan
  • Learning how to adopt healthy lifestyle habits

Complications of Obesity

If you’re obese, you’re more likely to develop a number of potentially serious health problems, including:

  • High triglycerides and low high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Metabolic syndrome  a combination of high blood sugar, high blood pressure, high triglycerides and low HDL cholesterol
  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Cancer, including cancer of the uterus, cervix, endometrium, ovaries, breast, colon, rectum, esophagus, liver, gallbladder, pancreas, kidney and prostate
  • Breathing disorders, including sleep apnea, a potentially serious sleep disorder in which breathing repeatedly stops and starts
  • Gallbladder disease
  • Gynecological problems, such as infertility and irregular periods
  • Erectile dysfunction and sexual health issues
  • Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, a condition in which fat builds up in the liver and can cause inflammation or scarring
  • Osteoarthritis

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