When a person is diagnosed with obesity, they have excessive fat and are above the weight considered “healthy” for their height. Healthcare providers often usebody mass index (BMI)to distinguish between adults who are overweight (BMI between 25 and 30) and those with obesity (BMI of 30 or above).Having these conditions is associated with several health risks, including:
- High blood pressure(hypertension)
- High cholesterol
- Heart disease
- Type 2 diabetes
- Sleep apnea (stopping and restarting breathing throughout the night)
- Osteoarthritis(wear-and-tear joint disease)
- Gallstones(small, hard deposits made of cholesterol and bilirubin in your gallbladder) and gallbladder diseases
Obesity is common. A wide-ranging survey of data from 2017 to 2018 found over 40% of American adults had it, with the numbers increasing.
This article will discuss the definition of “obesity,” its causes and effects, and how it’s treated and managed.
Obesity: Medical Definition and BMI Status
Clinically,obesityis often defined in terms of the BMI. It’s determined by measuring a person's weight in kilograms (kg) and dividing it by their height in meters squared (m2). After determining a person's BMI, a healthcare provider may refer to their weight in one of the following four categories:
- Underweight: BMI of 18.5 or less
- Healthy weight: BMI of 18.5 to 24.9
- Overweight: BMI of 25 to 29.9
- Obesity: 30 or more
Is BMI Accurate?
Assessingweight statuswith BMI is flawed and dated. This measure excludes relevant factors, such as body composition, ethnicity, sex, race, and age. Its widespread use continues predominantly because it’s of no cost and can quickly determine a person’s potential health status and outcomes.
Healthcare providers may useother testsalongside BMI to screen for obesity, including:
- Waist circumference: A provider uses a measuring tape around the waist just above the hips. A waist circumference over 35 inches in people assigned female at birth, or 40 in those assigned male at birth may indicate potential health problems.
- Waist-to-hip ratio: A provider measures waist and hip circumference using a measuring tape.
- Skinfold thickness: A healthcare provider uses a caliper tool to pinch your body in several places; with these measurements, healthcare providers estimate total body fat composition.
- Ultrasound: This type of imagingrelies on sound waves to visually represent body fat content.
Research has shown these methods to be as or more effective in determining obesity-related risks. A recent review comparing BMI to other measures found all forms comparable but noted that ultrasound might miss some instances of obesity, especially among older adults.
The review also noted that, while some studies have found few differences among the screening tools, others reported weight circumference and weight-to-hip ratio were more reliable than BMI at predicting obesity and related disease risk.
Obesity in Children and Teenagers
Obesity rates have been rising among American children and teenagers. In a health data survey from 2017 to 2018, nearly 1 in 5 (19.3%) of those between ages 2 and 19 had obesity. Childhood obesityincreases the lifetime risk of developing type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Moreover, children and teens with obesity are more prone toanxiety,depression, and problems with self-esteem.
What Causes Obesity?
The human body requires calories (energy) from food and drink to function. Obesity and weight gain occur due to energy imbalances, when a person consumes more calories than their body uses over a period of time.
If a person doesn't immediately use the calories they consume, the body stores them for long-term use as a type of fat known astriglycerides. Body fat increases as triglycerides accumulate from excess calories.
While excess calories directly cause obesity, various health issues and behaviors can increase a person's risk of developing obesity, including:
- Dietary factors: High-calorie diets, or those in which 10% of calories come from sugars or saturated fats, increase obesity risk.
- Insufficient physical activity: Not gettingenough exerciseis another common risk factors. The exercise recommendation for adults is at least 150 minutes of moderate to light physical activity weekly.
- Insufficient or poor sleep:Irregular sleepcan affect hormones and lead to overeating; adults should aim for seven to eight uninterrupted hours of rest a night.
- Health conditions: Certain diseases, includingmetabolic disorders,polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), andhypothyroidism(underactive thyroid), increase a person's risk for developing obesity.
- Stress: Living with stress can triggercortisoland other hormones, increasing hunger and leading to overeating.
- Genetics: Genetics can predispose you to store excess fat, leading to obesity; at least 15 genes have been identified as influencing body weight.
- Certain medications: Some people experience weight gain as a side effect of some medications, such asantidepressants, antipsychotics,beta-blockers(used for blood pressure), birth control, glucocorticoids (for autoimmune diseases), and insulin (a diabetes treatment).
- Environmental factors: People in areas lacking access to healthy, fresh foods and green spaces are at higher risk.
Obesity: Physical Symptoms
Obesity causes a range of symptoms and can lead to dangerous conditions, so in 2013, the American Medical Association recommended that obesity be considered a disease that should be medically managed.
Obesity Symptoms in Adults
Notably, some people who develop obesity don’t have symptoms. However, in adults, this condition is often characterized by:
- Excess body fat, often around the waist (known as visceral fat)
- Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
- Excess sweating
- Sleep disorders
- Skin symptoms, sensitivity, or rashes due to moisture collecting in the folds
- Difficulty or inability to perform physical tasks, such as standing up
- Pain in the back and joints
- Depression, anxiety, negative self-esteem, shame, and social stigmatization
Obesity Symptoms in Children and Teenagers
In children and teenagers, obesity commonly causes symptoms, including:
- Fatty tissue, especially in the breasts
- Acanthosis nigricans(a darker, smooth skin appearing around the neck or other parts of the body)
- Stretch marks, often on the back or hips
- Loss of breath during physical activity
- Constipation (difficulty passing stool)
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease(GERD) (a type of chronic acid reflux)
- Sleep apnea
- Low self-esteem
- Earlier onset of puberty in people assigned female at birth
- Delayed puberty in people assigned male at birth
- Flat feet, dislocated hips, or other orthopedic issues
Complications of Obesity
Obesity increases the risk of developing additional complications and health conditions, including the following:
- Type 2 diabetes
- Hypertension (high blood pressure)
- High cholesterol
- Heart failure
- Obstructive sleep apnea
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
- Barrett’s esophagus (tissue similar to the lining of the intestines replaces the esophagus's lining)
- Chronic kidney disease
- Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease(fat buildup in the liver)
- Metabolic syndrome (a group of diseases that together can lead to heart disease, stroke, or type 2 diabetes)
- Certain cancers, especially that of the bowel, breast, and the womb
- Reduced fertility
- Liver disease
- Chronic kidney disease
- Pregnancy complications likepreeclampsia(a spike in blood pressure) andgestational diabetes(diabetes that develops during pregnancy)
Obesity Treatment Approaches
Managing obesityinvolves various approaches, from lifestyle changes to medications to surgery.
The cornerstone of any weight management program is dietary changes. Talk to a healthcare provider before making any significant changes.
Your medical provider may refer you to aregistered dietitian (RD) or registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN), who will work with you to create a personalized healthy eating plan. Strategies include:
- Reducing meat consumption
- Increasing intake of fresh fruit, vegetables, whole grains, and cooked dry beans
- Substituting snacks like chips or crackers with healthy, lower-calorie alternatives
- Drinking water or seltzer instead of soda or juice
- Using salt-free spices and avoiding high-salt foods
- Choosing fat-free or low-fat dairy products
When incorporating a new eating plan, it’s essential to make the changes gradually. A healthy diet should be paired with other lifestyle changes to ensure results.
Increasing physical activity is essential for weight loss. How much exercise do you need? Every week Adults should aim for 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity activity weekly. Activities could include:
Those who prefer high-intensity aerobic exercise should aim for 75 to 150 minutes weekly. Examples of high-intensity exercise include:
- Speed walking
- Jumping rope
As with diet, talk to a healthcare provider before making changes. Start small and scale up if you don’t currently focus on fitness.
Research has shown that not getting enough sleep can increase the chances of developing obesity.Adults should aim for seven to eight hours of uninterrupted rest every night; children and adolescents require more. Follow aconsistent sleep scheduleto improve sleep quality.
Behavioral weight loss programs in individual or group settings are an excellent obesity management tool. Trained professionals, such as weight loss counselors, RDs and RDNs, exercise specialists, or psychiatrists, assist people with customized diet and exercise plans to manage the condition.They may also provide behavioral strategies to ensure consistent and long-lasting results.
A healthcare provider may prescribe medications if diet, exercise, or behavioral programs are not yielding results. These medications reduce appetite, block food absorption in the intestines, or stimulate the pancreas to release insulin.
Examples of medications prescribed to treat obesity include:
- Contrave (naltrexone bupropion)
- Amfepramone (diethylpropion)
- Phendiet, Melfiat, Anorex-SR (phendimetrazine)
- Xenical (orlistat)
- Wegs,Ozempic(semaglutide) injectable medications
These are not meant as standalone treatments; they work alongside other methods to promote results.
Specialized devices to reduce the amount of food an individual can digest can promote weight loss. Two such devices approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are:
- Gastric balloon: Gastric balloons are positioned in the stomach using an endoscope (an adjustable tube with a camera). Once in place, they are filled with air, gas, or liquid, reducing stomach capacity. After six to nine months, gastric balloons are removed.
- Gastric emptying systems: A surgeon implants a specialized tube in the stomach, which drains some of the contents from the stomach 20 to 30 minutes after you eat. Once a person reaches their target weight, the system is removed.
A healthcare provider may recommendweight loss surgeryfor difficult-to-manage cases of obesity that pose significant health risks. There are three primary approaches:
- Gastrectomy: This surgery involves removing a large portion of the stomach, making it smaller, and limiting how much food and drink a person can digest at one time.
- Gastric band: During gastric band surgery, a specialized band is implanted and tightened around the upper stomach, just below the esophagus. Gastric band surgery aims to reduce how much food the stomach can digest at one time and assist in weight loss.
- Gastric bypass: This surgeryinvolves connecting a small portion of the stomach directly to the middle of the intestine, bypassing the first section. As a result, the body absorbs less food and has a reduced capacity for consumption.
If left unmanaged, obesity can significantly impact a person’s health, reduce their quality of life, and lead to complications. Research has shown that all-cause mortality—death due to associated conditions, such as cancer, type 2 diabetes, and heart diseases—is significantly elevated in people with this condition.
In addition to the physical health impact, there’s a mental health burden to living with obesity. According to one cross-sectional analysis, people with obesity are 25% more likely to have depression, anxiety, or other mental health conditions.Additionally, those with this condition are more likely to face social stigmatization and discrimination in employment and education.
Resources for People With Obesity
Many resources are available to manage obesity and reduce the risk of complications. If you are trying to manage weight and make changes to your lifestyle, there are several resources for support, including:
- Healthcare providers: If you’ve been diagnosed with obesity or are concerned about your weight, talk to a healthcare provider about treatment options and additional support.
- Governmental programs: Initiatives and campaigns led by governmental agencies, such as theCenters for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, and theWorld Health Organization (WHO), provide helpful information and data.
- Programs and campaigns: Nongovernmental organizations and nonprofits organize and lead campaigns to increase obesity awareness and provide helpful information. Current programs includeEat Well & Keep Moving, aimed at kids in schools, andPartnership for a Healthier America, among others.
- Technology: Using apps or specialized devices, activity monitors, and meal planners can help keep you on track with exercise and dietary goals.
- Counseling: Individual or group-based counseling with a mental health or registered dietitian nutritionist can help you cope with the condition and associated challenges.
- Social media: Facebook groups, message groups, and other online communities can also be helpful information and social support resources.
Obesity is a complex disease involving an excessive amount of body fat. Obesity isn't just a cosmetic concern. It's a medical problem that increases the risk of other diseases and health problems, such as heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and certain cancers.What are important things to know about obesity? ›
Facts about obesity
Being overweight or obese raises your risk for health problems. These include coronary heart disease, type 2 diabetes, asthma, high cholesterol, osteoarthritis, high blood pressure, sleep apnea, and certain types of cancer.
- Approximately 15 million Americans have life-threatening obesity.
- Life-threatening obesity is defined as 100 pounds above ideal body weight or a BMI (body mass index) greater than 40.
- America is the heaviest nation in the world.
- 25 percent of U.S. children are overweight.
These include diet, lack of exercise, environmental factors, and genetics.What are 3 reasons obesity is a problem? ›
Obesity increases the risk of several debilitating, and deadly diseases, including diabetes, heart disease, and some cancers. It does this through a variety of pathways, some as straightforward as the mechanical stress of carrying extra pounds and some involving complex changes in hormones and metabolism.What does obesity affect in life? ›
Carrying extra fat leads to serious health consequences such as cardiovascular disease (mainly heart disease and stroke), type 2 diabetes, musculoskeletal disorders like osteoarthritis, and some cancers (endometrial, breast and colon). These conditions cause premature death and substantial disability.What is the biggest indicator of obesity? ›
Body Mass Index (BMI) is a screening tool for overweight and obesity.How to reduce obesity? ›
Choosing healthier foods (whole grains, fruits and vegetables, healthy fats and protein sources) and beverages. Limiting unhealthy foods (refined grains and sweets, potatoes, red meat, processed meat) and beverages (sugary drinks) Increasing physical activity. Limiting television time, screen time, and other “sit time”What are 5 consequences obesity can have on your health? ›
Like tobacco, obesity causes or is closely linked with a large number of health conditions, including heart disease, stroke, diabetes, high blood pressure, unhealthy cholesterol, asthma, sleep apnea, gallstones, kidney stones, infertility, and as many as 11 types of cancers, including leukemia, breast, and colon cancer ...Is obesity a disease or a choice? ›
Obesity is a complex disease that occurs when an individual's weight is higher than what is considered healthy for his or her height. Obesity affects children as well as adults. Many factors can contribute to excess weight gain including eating patterns, physical activity levels, and sleep routines.
Lack of physical activity, combined with high amounts of TV, computer, video game, or other screen time has been associated with a high body mass index (BMI). Most adults need at least 150 minutes of aerobic activity a week.Can obesity be cured? ›
Reducing calories and practicing healthier eating habits are vital to overcoming obesity. Although you may lose weight quickly at first, steady weight loss over the long term is considered the safest way to lose weight and the best way to keep it off permanently. There is no best weight-loss diet.What are 3 keys to preventing obesity? ›
The most important strategies for preventing obesity are healthy eating behaviors, regular physical activity, and reduced sedentary activity (such as watching television and videotapes, and playing computer games).What foods cause obesity? ›
Nutrition and weight gain
Foods most often associated with weight gain include sugar-sweetened beverages, potato chips, sweets, desserts, refined grains, processed meats, and red meats. Experts say these foods, as well as other ultra-processed options, don't provide much nutritional benefit.
Emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products. Includes a variety of protein foods such as seafood, lean meats and poultry, eggs, legumes (beans and peas), soy products, nuts, and seeds. Is low in added sugars, sodium, saturated fats, trans fats, and cholesterol.Can you be obese and healthy? ›
Is it possible to be overweight and healthy? Silvana Pannain, MD: Yes, you can be overweight and metabolically healthy. At the same time, we know that obesity is a disease that affects the body in many different ways. Thirteen types of cancer and 200 other health conditions are related to obesity.What is the healthiest way for a person to lose weight? ›
Being active is key to losing weight and keeping it off. As well as providing lots of health benefits, exercise can help burn off the excess calories you cannot lose through diet alone. Find an activity you enjoy and are able to fit into your routine.How long can an obese person go without food? ›
Your body can meet the majority of your calorie requirements from stored fat, but total starvation is fatal in 8-12 weeks, regardless of initial body weight. Within one or two days of your last meal, your body will have exhausted all the glycogen stored in the liver and muscles.What are the three pillars of obesity? ›
The Three Pillars. To manage obesity, patients need support from one or more of what Dr. Wharton calls the “three pillars” of effective long-term weight loss — pharmacotherapy, cognitive-behavioural therapy and bariatric surgery.What is the difference between obesity and overweight? ›
Based on World Health Organization's (WHO) classification, when a person's BMI is greater than or equal to 25, they are overweight. And a BMI greater than or equal to 30 is classified as obesity.
- Calories. The energy value of food is measured in units called calories. ...
- Poor diet. Obesity doesn't happen overnight. ...
- Lack of physical activity. Lack of physical activity is another important factor related to obesity. ...
- Genetics. ...
- Medical reasons.
- Obesity arising from diet: ...
- Nervous stomach: ...
- Gluten free food: ...
- Genetically caused obesity: ...
- Alcohol consumption related obesity: ...
- Sedentary obesity:
Additionally, you can divide obesity into three separate categories of severity: Obesity class I: BMI between 30 and less than 35. Obesity class II: BMI between 35 and less than 40 Obesity class III: BMI of 40 or higherAre there 4 categories of obesity? ›
According to BMI, general population is classified in five categories: underweight (BMI < 18.5 kg/m2), normal weight (BMI 18.5-24.9 kg/m2), class I obesity - overweight (BMI 25.0-29.9 kg/m2), class II obesity - obesity (BMI 30.0-39.9 kg/m2), class III obesity - extreme obesity (BMI > 40 kg/m2).How do obese people lose so much weight? ›
You can lose weight if you're really heavy for a few reasons. One is simply that the body favours using fat as a fuel source if there is a lot of it around. Another is that obese people actually have faster metabolisms because of how much work it is to keep all that tissue functioning.Why is obesity difficult to treat? ›
There is an evolutionary basis to our current predicament: Our bodies have evolved in a world where high-calorie food has historically been scarce and valuable, with starvation a constant danger. This is one reason obesity is so difficult to treat; our bodies are wired to protect our weight.What are 2 harmful effects of obesity? ›
Adults with obesity have higher risks for stroke, many types of cancer, premature death, and mental illness such as clinical depression and anxiety.What is the key to controlling one's weight? ›
Achieving and maintaining a healthy weight includes healthy eating, physical activity, optimal sleep, and stress reduction. Several other factors may also affect weight gain. Healthy eating features a variety of healthy foods.Can obesity shorten life expectancy? ›
Obesity is associated with a reduced life expectancy, largely because obese individuals are at increased risk of so many medical complications. But not all obese individuals are the same, and some do not have the metabolic abnormalities that often accompany obesity.What type of mental illness is related to obesity? ›
One study found that adults with excess weight had a 55% higher risk of developing depression over their lifetime compared to people that did not struggle with obesity. Other research linked being overweight with significant increases in major depression, bipolar disorder, and panic disorder or agoraphobia.
The fundamental cause of obesity and overweight is an energy imbalance between calories consumed and calories expended. Globally, there has been: an increased intake of energy-dense foods that are high in fat and sugars; and.Is obesity a serious illness? ›
Obesity is a complex disease involving an excessive amount of body fat. Obesity isn't just a cosmetic concern. It's a medical problem that increases the risk of other diseases and health problems, such as heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and certain cancers.What is type 1 obesity? ›
Patients with T1D and obesity are characterized by the presence of insulin resistance, of high insulin requirements, have a greater cardiometabolic risk and an enhanced risk of developing chronic complications when compared to normal-weight persons with T1D.How long do obese people last? ›
Through their research, Dr. Kitahara and her colleagues made the stunning discovery that extreme obesity can shorten lifespan by as much as 14 years. In honor of Healthy Weight Week this week, I connected with Dr.What is the best medicine for obesity? ›
|Weight Management Medication||Approved For|
|orlistat link (Xenical) Available in lower dose without prescription (Alli)||Adults and children ages 12 and older|
|phentermine-topiramate link (Qsymia)||Adults|
|naltrexone-bupropion link (Contrave)||Adults|
Whatever etiopathogenesis of obesity is considered, several organs are damaged as a consequence of the development of obesity, including the pancreas, liver, muscle, and the cardiovascular system.Why am I gaining weight without eating? ›
Unintentional weight gain occurs when you put on weight without increasing your consumption of food or liquid and without decreasing your activity. This occurs when you're not trying to gain weight. It's often due to fluid retention, abnormal growths, constipation, or pregnancy.What causes rapid weight gain? ›
This may be due to menstruation, heart or kidney failure, preeclampsia, or medicines you take. A rapid weight gain may be a sign of dangerous fluid retention. If you quit smoking, you might gain weight. Most people who quit smoking gain 4 to 10 pounds (2 to 4.5 kilograms) in the first 6 months after quitting.Does walking help obesity? ›
Physical activity, such as walking, is important for weight control because it helps you burn calories. If you add 30 minutes of brisk walking to your daily routine, you could burn about 150 more calories a day. Of course, the more you walk and the quicker your pace, the more calories you'll burn.What is lacking in obesity? ›
Abstract: Obesity is a critical medical condition worldwide that is increasingly involved with nutri- tional derangements associated with micronutrient deficiencies, including iron, zinc, calcium, magnesium, selenium, and vitamins A, C, D, and E.
- All-causes of death (mortality).
- High blood pressure (hypertension).
- High LDL cholesterol, low HDL cholesterol, or high levels of triglycerides (dyslipidemia).
- Type 2 diabetes.
- Coronary heart disease.
- Gallbladder disease.
- increased sweating.
- difficulty doing physical activity.
- often feeling very tired.
- joint and back pain.
- low confidence and self-esteem.
- feeling isolated.
This may be due to menstruation, heart or kidney failure, preeclampsia, or medicines you take. A rapid weight gain may be a sign of dangerous fluid retention. If you quit smoking, you might gain weight. Most people who quit smoking gain 4 to 10 pounds (2 to 4.5 kilograms) in the first 6 months after quitting.How does obesity affect the brain? ›
Effects of obesity on the brain. Over the years, a variety of research studies on both small and large groups of children and adults. Studies have found obesity impacts brain volume, executive function skills, cognitive development and can lead to a higher risk of dementia and Alzheimer's disease.What organs are affected by obesity? ›
Whatever etiopathogenesis of obesity is considered, several organs are damaged as a consequence of the development of obesity, including the pancreas, liver, muscle, and the cardiovascular system.What type of exercise is best for obesity? ›
- Weight training.
- Interval training.
- Try cardio for weight loss. ...
- Eat fewer refined carbs. ...
- Start counting calories. ...
- Choose better beverages. ...
- Eat slowly. ...
- Add fiber to your diet. ...
- Eat a high protein breakfast. ...
- Get enough sleep every night.
Other studies reveal that restrictive eating and dieting may lead to future weight gain due to your body's physiological responses to such behaviors, such as changes in hunger and fullness hormones ( 18 , 19 , 20 ).How to lose 10 pounds in a week? ›
To lose 10 pounds in one week, you'll need to burn between 3,500 and 5,000 calories more than you consume each day by restricting your diet to small portions of nutritious yet low-calorie foods, and significantly increasing your aerobic exercise with interval training, sports, and other vigorous activities.What weight is considered obese for a woman? ›
|30.0 and Above||Obesity|
These ranges of BMI are used to describe levels of risk: Overweight (not obese), if BMI is 25.0 to 29.9. Class 1 (low-risk) obesity, if BMI is 30.0 to 34.9. Class 2 (moderate-risk) obesity, if BMI is 35.0 to 39.9. Class 3 (high-risk) obesity, if BMI is equal to or greater than 40.0.