Obesity is one of the biggest health problems in the world and an epidemic in the United States. This condition puts people at a high risk of many serious diseases, such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. In 2016, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported an estimated 93.3 million (39.8%) adult Americans and 13.7 million (18.5%) children and teens are clinically obese.

Obesity is defined by having a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or more. BMI is is a calculation involving a person’s height and weight. However, it has many limitations. Factors such as sex, age, ethnicity, and muscle mass can influences the relationship between BMI and body fat. A BMI score cannot distinguish between excess fat, muscle, or bone mass. Despite these limitations, BMI continues to be a widely used indicator of excess weight. 

You can help to prevent obesity by making healthy lifestyle choices. Aim for moderate exercise for 20-30 minutes a day. Eat well by choosing nutritious foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein. Only eat high-fat, high-calorie foods in moderation.

  • What Causes Obesity
  • Who Is At Risk?
  • Complications
Many factors influence the cause of obesity. Ultimately, eating more calories than you burn in daily activities and exercise cause obesity. Over time, the extra calories add up and cause you to gain weight. 

Some common specific causes include:

  • Eating a poor diet high in fats and calories
  • Having a sedentary (inactive) lifestyle
  • Not sleeping enough – leads to hormonal changes that make you feel hungrier and crave high-calorie foods
  • Genetic can affect how your body processes food into energy and how fat is stored
  • Growing older can lead to less muscle mass and a slower metabolism
  • Pregnancy weight can be difficult to lose and may lead to obesity

Certain medical conditions may also lead to weight gain, including:

  • Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)
  • Prader-Willi Syndrome
  • Cushing Syndrome
  • Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid)
  • Osteoarthritis

A person’s risk of obesity increases with a complex mix of genetics, environment, and psychological factors. 

  • Genetics – Some people possess factors, like metabolic rate and fat storage, that can make it difficult to lose weight.
  • Environment – A person’s environment includes their home, school, and community. They all influence how and what a person eats and how active they are. They may have never learned to cook healthy meals or can’t afford healthier foods. If you neighborhood is unsafe, a person may find it hard to play, walk, or run. 
  • Psychological – Depression can sometime lead to weight gain, as people turn to food for comfort. Certain antidepressant can also increase risk of weight gain.
  • Medications such as steroids and birth control can put people at risk for weight gain.

Obesity leads to more than weight gain. Having a high ratio of body fat to muscle puts strain on your bones as well as internal organs. It also increases inflammation in the body, which may be a cause of cancer. Obesity is also a key cause of Type 2 diabetes. 

Obesity is linked to several health complication, many of which are life-threatening.

  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Certain cancers (breast, colon, and endometrial)
  • Stroke
  • Gallbladder disease
  • Fatty liver disease
  • High cholesterol
  • Sleep apnea
  • Arthritis
  • Infertility

How is Obesity Treated?

If you’re obese and haven’t been able to lose weight on your own, there is medical help available. Talk to your doctor, they may be able to refer you to a weight specialist in your area. Your doctor may also want to work with you as part of a weight-loss team made up of a dietitian, therapist, and/or other healthcare staff. 

Lifestyle and behavior changes are the key to treating weight loss. No matter what other route your doctor may want to pursue, healthy eating and exercise will be a part of the treatment plan. Your healthcare team will educate you on better food choices and help develop healthy eating plan that works for you. A daily exercise program will help build strength, endurance and metabolism. 

Medical weight loss involves your doctor prescribe certain prescription weight loss medications in addition to healthy eating and exercise plans. Medications are not usually prescribed unless other methods of weight loss have not worked and your BMI is 27 or more with an obese-related health condition. Prescription weight loss medications will either prevent the absorption of fat or suppress appetite. These drugs have unpleasant side effects.

Weight loss surgery (bariatric surgery) requires a commitment from patients that they will change their lifestyle. These types of surgery work by limiting how much food you can comfortable eat or by preventing your body from absorbing food and calories. Weigh loss surgery isn’t a quick fix. It’s a major surgery and can have serious health risks. After surgery, patients will need to change how they eat or risk getting sick. 

Candidates for weight loss surgery will have a BMI of 40 of more, or have a BMI of 35 – 39.9 with a serious obesity-related health problem. 

Patients often have to lose weight prior to surgery. Additionally, they normally undergo counseling to ensure that they’re both emotionally prepared and willing to make the necessary lifestyle changes that it will require. 

Surgical options include:

  • Gastric bypass surgery
  • Laparoscopic Adjustable Gastric Banding (LAGB)
  • Gastric Sleeve
  • Biliopancreatic Diversion with duodenal switch

Sources: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention  and MedlinePlus.gov


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