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Obesity is a complex disorder involving an excessive amount of body fat. Obesity isn't just a cosmetic concern. It increases your risk of diseases and health problems, such as heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure.
Being extremely obese means you are especially likely to have health problems related to your weight.
The good news is that even modest weight loss can improve or prevent the health problems associated with obesity. Dietary changes, increased physical activity and behavior changes can help you lose weight. Prescription medications and weight-loss surgery are additional options for treating obesity.
Obesity is diagnosed when your body mass index (BMI) is 30 or higher. Your body mass index is calculated by dividing your weight in kilograms (kg) by your height in meters (m) squared.
For most people, BMI provides a reasonable estimate of body fat. However, BMI doesn't directly measure body fat, so some people, such as muscular athletes, may have a BMI in the obese category even though they don't have excess body fat. Ask your doctor if your BMI is a problem.
|Obese (Class I)
|Obese (Class II)
|40.0 and higher
|Extreme obesity (Class III)
If you think you may be obese, and especially if you're concerned about weight-related health problems, see your doctor or health care provider. You and your provider can evaluate your health risks and discuss your weight-loss options.
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.
Obesity usually results from a combination of causes and contributing factors, including:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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
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
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
When you're obese, your overall quality of life may be diminished. You may not be able to do things you used to do, such as participating in enjoyable activities. You may avoid public places. Obese people may even encounter discrimination.
Other weight-related issues that may affect your quality of life include :
Shame and guilt
Lower work achievement
If your BMI is in the obese range, your health care provider will typically review your health history in detail, perform a physical exam and recommend some tests.
These exams and tests generally include :
Your doctor may review your weight history, weight-loss efforts, exercise habits, eating patterns, what other conditions you've had, medications, stress levels and other issues about your health. Your doctor may also review your family's health history to see if you may be predisposed to certain conditions.
This includes also measuring your height; checking vital signs, such as heart rate, blood pressure and temperature; listening to your heart and lungs; and examining your abdomen.
Your doctor will check your body mass index (BMI) to determine your level of obesity. This should be done at least once a year. Your BMI also helps determine your overall health risk and what treatment may be appropriate.
Fat stored around your waist, sometimes called visceral fat or abdominal fat, may further increase your risk of diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease. Women with a waist measurement (circumference) of more than 35 inches (80 centimeters, or cm) and men with a waist measurement of more than 40 inches (102 cm) may have more health risks than do people with smaller waist measurements. Like the BMI measurement, your waist circumference should be checked at least once a year.
If you have known health problems, your doctor will evaluate them. Your doctor will also check for other possible health problems, such as high blood pressure and diabetes.
What tests you have depend on your health, risk factors and any current symptoms you may be having. Tests may include a cholesterol test, liver function tests, a fasting glucose, a thyroid test and others. Your doctor may also recommend certain heart tests, such as an electrocardiogram.
Gathering all this information helps you and your doctor determine how much weight you need to lose and what health conditions or risks you already have. And this will guide treatment decisions.
The initial treatment goal is usually a modest weight loss — 3 to 5 percent of your total weight. That means that if you weigh 200 pounds (91 kg) and are obese by BMI standards, you would need to lose only about 6 to 10 pounds (2.7 to 4.5 kg) for your health to begin to improve. However, the more weight you lose, the greater the benefits.
All weight-loss programs require changes in your eating habits and increased physical activity. The treatment methods that are right for you depend on your level of obesity, your overall health and your willingness to participate in your weight-loss plan.
Other treatment tools include: Dietary changes
Exercise and activity
Prescription weight-loss medications
Reducing calories and practicing healthier eating habits are vital to overcoming obesity. Although you may lose weight quickly at first, slow and steady weight loss over the long term is considered the safest way to lose weight and the best way to keep it off permanently.
Avoid drastic and unrealistic diet changes, such as crash diets, because they're unlikely to help you keep excess weight off for the long term.
There is no best weight-loss diet. Choose one that includes healthy foods that you feel will work for you. Dietary changes to treat obesity include :
Cutting calories. The key to weight loss is reducing how many calories you take in. You and your health care providers can review your typical eating and drinking habits to see how many calories you normally consume and where you can cut back. You and your doctor can decide how many calories you need to take in each day to lose weight, but a typical amount is 1,200 to 1,500 calories for women and 1,500 to 1,800 for men.
Feeling full on less. The concept of energy density can help you satisfy your hunger with fewer calories. All foods have a certain number of calories within a given amount (volume). Some foods — such as desserts, candies, fats and processed foods — are high in energy density. This means that a small volume of that food has a large number of calories. In contrast, other foods, such as fruits and vegetables, have lower energy density. These foods provide a larger portion size with a fewer number of calories. By eating larger portions of foods that have fewer calories, you reduce hunger pangs, take in fewer calories and feel better about your meal, which contributes to how satisfied you feel overall.
Making healthier choices. To make your overall diet healthier, eat more plant-based foods, such as fruits, vegetables and whole-grain carbohydrates. Also emphasize lean sources of protein — such as beans, lentils and soy — and lean meats. If you like fish, try to include fish twice a week. Limit salt and added sugar. Stick with low-fat dairy products. Eat small amounts of fats, and make sure they come from heart-healthy sources, such as olive, canola and nut oils.
Restricting certain foods. Certain diets limit the amount of a particular food group, such as high-carbohydrate or full-fat foods. Ask your doctor which diet plans have been found effective and which might be helpful for you. Drinking sugar-sweetened beverages is a sure way to consume more calories than you intended, and limiting these drinks or eliminating them altogether is a good place to start cutting calories.
Meal replacements. These plans suggest that you replace one or two meals with their products — such as low-calorie shakes or meal bars — and eat healthy snacks and a healthy, balanced third meal that's low in fat and calories. In the short term, this type of diet can help you lose weight. Keep in mind that these diets likely won't teach you how to change your overall lifestyle, though, so you may have to keep this up if you want to keep your weight off.
Be wary of quick fixes. You may be tempted by fad diets that promise fast and easy weight loss. The reality, however, is that there are no magic foods or quick fixes. Fad diets may help in the short term, but the long-term results don't appear to be any better than other diets.
Similarly, you may lose weight on a crash diet, but you're likely to regain it when you stop the diet. To lose weight — and keep it off — you have to adopt healthy-eating habits that you can maintain over time.
Increased physical activity or exercise is an essential part of obesity treatment. Most people who are able to maintain their weight loss for more than a year get regular exercise, even simply walking.
To boost your activity level :
Exercise. People who are overweight or obese need to get at least 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity physical activity to prevent further weight gain or to maintain the loss of a modest amount of weight. To achieve more-significant weight loss, you may need to exercise 300 minutes or more a week. You probably will need to gradually increase the amount you exercise as your endurance and fitness improve.
Keep moving. Even though regular aerobic exercise is the most efficient way to burn calories and shed excess weight, any extra movement helps burn calories. Making simple changes throughout your day can add up to big benefits. Park farther from store entrances, rev up your household chores, garden, get up and move around periodically, and wear a pedometer to track how many steps you actually take over the course of a day.
Numerous dietary supplements that promise to help you shed weight quickly are available. The effectiveness, particularly the long-term effectiveness, and safety of these products are often questionable.
Herbal remedies, vitamins and minerals, all considered dietary supplements by the Food and Drug Administration, don't have the same rigorous testing and labeling process as over-the-counter and prescription medications do.
Yet some of these substances, including products labeled as "natural," have drug-like effects that can be dangerous. Even some vitamins and minerals can cause problems when taken in excessive amounts. Ingredients may not be standard, and they can cause unpredictable and harmful side effects. Dietary supplements also can cause dangerous interactions with prescription medications you take. Talk to your doctor before taking any dietary supplements.
Mind-body therapies — such as acupuncture, mindfulness meditation and yoga — may complement other obesity treatments. However, these therapies generally haven't been well-studied in the treatment of weight loss. Talk to your doctor if you're interested in adding a mind-body therapy to your treatment.
Whether you're at risk of becoming obese, 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 prevent weight gain are the same as the steps to lose weight: daily exercise, a healthy diet, and a long-term commitment to watch what you eat and drink.
Exercise regularly. You need to get 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity activity a week to prevent weight gain. Moderately intense physical activities include fast walking and swimming.
Follow a healthy eating plan. Focus on low-calorie, nutrient-dense foods, such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Avoid saturated fat and limit sweets and alcohol. Eat three regular meals a day with limited snacking. You can still enjoy small amounts of high-fat, high-calorie foods as an infrequent treat. Just be sure to choose foods that promote a healthy weight and good health most of the time.
Know and avoid the food traps that cause you to eat.Identify situations that trigger out-of-control eating. Try keeping a journal and write down what you eat, how much you eat, when you eat, how you're feeling and how hungry you are. After a while, you should see patterns emerge. You can plan ahead and develop strategies for handling these types of situations and stay in control of your eating behaviors.
Monitor your weight regularly. People who weigh themselves at least once a week are more successful in keeping off excess pounds. Monitoring your weight can tell you whether your efforts are working and can help you detect small weight gains before they become big problems.
Be consistent. Sticking to your healthy-weight plan during the week, on the weekends, and amidst vacation and holidays as much as possible increases your chances of long-term success.