A disorder involving excessive body fat that increases the risk of health issues. Obesity often results from ingesting more calories than those burned by exercise and normal daily activities. When a person’s body mass index is 25 or more, then obesity occurs. Excessive body fat increases the risk of severe health problems. Lifestyle changes such as diet and exercise are the mainstay of treatment.
What is Obesity?
Excess weight and obesity are defined as abnormal or excessive accumulation of fat, which can be harmful to health.
The Body Mass Index (BMI) is a simple weight index for a height that is commonly used to classify overweight and obesity among adults. It is defined as the weight of one person in kilograms divided by the square of their height in meters (kg/m2).
In adults, overweight and obesity are defined by the WHO as:
- Overweight is a BMI >= 25; and
- Obesity is a BMI >=30.
- BMI provides the most useful measure at the population level of overweight and obesity because it is the same for both genders and all ages of adults. However, it should be taken as a rough guide because it may not match the same fat in various people.
- For children, age should be taken into account when defining overweight and obesity.
Children under 5:
For children under 5:
- Overweight is the weight-for-height greater than 2 standard deviations above the median of the WHO Child Growth Standards; and
- Obesity is the weight for height greater than three standard deviations above the median of the World Health Organization’s Child Growth Standards.
Children aged 5 to 19:
- Overweight and obesity are defined as follows for children aged 5 to 19:
- Overweight is a BMI-for-age greater than 1 standard deviation above the WHO growth benchmark median, and
Obesity is above 2 standard deviations above the WHO baseline median for growth.
While gaining a few extra pounds may seem insignificant when it comes to a person’s overall health, weight gain can quickly escalate into serious illness.
Common symptoms in adults:
Symptoms of obesity can interfere with everyday life. For adults, common symptoms include:
- Excessive accumulation of body fat
- Shortness of breath
- Sleeping troubles
- Skin problems
- Inability to perform simple physical tasks
- Pain (usually in the back and joints)
- Psychological impact
Common symptoms in children and adolescents:
More than 340 million children and adolescents aged 5 to 19 were found to be overweight or obese in 2016, according to the World Health Organization. Over the past 30 years, the CDC reports that the rate of childhood obesity has tripled, according to Boston Children’s Hospital.
Common symptoms of childhood obesity can include:
- Eating disorders
- Fat tissue deposits (might be visible in the breast area)
- Appearing stretch marks on the hips and back.
- Acanthosis nigricans
- Shortness of breath with physical activity
- Sleep apnea4
- Gastrointestinal reflux
- Poor self-esteem
- Premature puberty among girls/ delayed puberty among boys.
- Orthopedic issues(like flat feet or dislocated hips)
Symptoms of morbid obesity:
- Morbid obesity is a growing health problem in many developed countries of the world today, particularly in the United States.
- A person with obesity-related health problems (such as high blood pressure or diabetes) with a BMI of 35 or more, is also considered morbidly obese.
- Morbid obesity can cause an individual to struggle with everyday activities such as walking and can alter bodily functions such as breathing. It also puts a person at high risk for developing many other serious illnesses.
Early obesity can develop in children due to several rare genetic disorders involving genes that play essential roles in regulating appetite and energy expenditure, including:
- Pro-opiomelanocortin deficiency obesity (POMC): The main symptoms include overeating (extreme hunger) beginning in infancy, early obesity, and hormonal problems (such as adrenal insufficiency).
- Leptin Receptor Deficiency Obesity (LEPR): The main symptoms include overeating, severe precocious obesity, and hypogonadotropic hypogonadism.
- Bardet-Biedl Syndrome (BBS): The main symptoms include early obesity, overeating, visual impairment, polydactyly (having an extra finger or toe), and kidney failure.
Eating more calories than you burn in everyday activities and long-term exercise can cause obesity. Over time, these extra calories add up and lead to weight gain.
But it’s not always all about calories and calories, or living a sedentary lifestyle. While these are indeed causes of obesity, there are some causes that you cannot control.
Common specific causes of obesity include:
- genetics, which can affect how your body turns food into energy and how fat is stored
- getting older, which can lead to decreased muscle mass and a slower metabolic rate, which makes it easier to gain weight
- not getting enough sleep, which can lead to hormonal changes that make you more hungry and crave certain high-calorie foods
- pregnancy, as the weight gained during pregnancy, can be difficult to lose and can eventually lead to obesity
Certain health conditions can also cause weight gain, which can lead to obesity. These include:
- Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a condition that causes a hormonal imbalance in the female reproductive system.
- Prader-Willi syndrome, a rare disease present at birth that causes excessive hunger
- Cushing’s syndrome, a condition caused by high levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) in your system
- hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid), a condition in which the thyroid gland does not make enough of certain important hormones
- osteoarthritis (OA) and other conditions that cause pain that can lead to decreased activity
Risk of Obesity:
A complex mix of factors can increase a person’s risk of obesity.
Some people have genes that prevent them from losing weight.
Environment and Community:
Your environment at home, at school, and in your community can influence the way you eat and what you eat, as well as your level of activity.
You may be at a higher risk of obesity if you:
- Live in a neighborhood with limited healthy food options or with many high-calorie food options, such as fast-food restaurants
- Have not yet learned to cook healthy meals
- Don’t think you can afford healthier food
- Couldn’t find a good place to play, walk or exercise in your neighborhood
Psychological and Other Factors:
- Depression can sometimes cause weight gain, because some people may turn to food for emotional comfort. Certain antidepressants can also increase the risk of weight gain.
- Quitting smoking is always a good thing, but quitting smoking can also lead to weight gain. In some people, this can lead to excessive weight gain. For this reason, it is important to focus on diet and exercise while you are quitting, at least after the initial quitting period.
- Medications, such as steroids or birth control pills, can also increase your risk of weight gain.
|18.5 – 24.9||Normal|
|25.0 – 29.9||Overweight|
|30 or greater||Obese|
BMI is a rough calculation of a person’s weight relative to their height.
Other more accurate measurements of body fat and body fat distribution include:
- Skinfold thickness tests
- Waist-to-hip comparisons
- Screening tests, such as ultrasounds, CT scans, and MRIs
Your doctor may also order certain tests to help diagnose the health risks associated with obesity. These may include:
- A blood test is taken to look at cholesterol and glucose levels
- Liver function tests
- Diabetes screening
- Thyroid tests
- Heart tests, such as an electrocardiogram (ECG or ECG)
Measurement of fat around your waist is also a good predictor of your risk for obesity-related diseases.
If you are obese and cannot lose weight on your own, medical help is available. Start with your primary care doctor, who can refer you to a weight specialist in your area.
Your doctor may also want to work with you as part of a team that will help you lose weight. This team may include a dietitian, therapist, or other caregivers.
Your doctor will work with you to make the necessary changes to your lifestyle. Sometimes they may also recommend weight loss medication or surgery. Learn more about the treatment of obesity.