Obesity Definition: Causes, Health Effects & Treatments

Obesity Definition: Causes, Health Effects & Treatments
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Obesity Definition: Causes, Health Effects & Treatments

Obesity Definition: Causes, Health Effects & Treatments.

Obesity is a condition in which a person has excess body fat. More than just a number on a scale or the size of someone’s body. Today the definitions of overweight and obesity are based primarily on measures of height and weight—not morbidity. These measures are used to calculate a number known as body mass index (BMI). Interpretation of BMI numbers is based on weight status groupings, such as underweight, healthy weight, overweight, and obese, that are adjusted for age and sex.

Is Obesity a Disease?

Whether or not obesity should be considered a “disease” (or an abnormal state) is a matter of debate. In 2013, the American Medical Association, the nation’s largest group of physicians, voted to recognize obesity as a disease. The decision was meant to improve access to weight loss treatment, reduce the stigma of obesity and underscore the fact that obesity is not always a matter of self-control and willpower.

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But others argue that calling obesity a disease automatically categorizes a large portion of Americans as “sick,” when they may not be. Instead, critics say obesity should be considered a risk factor for many diseases, but not a disease in and of itself.

The Obesity Epidemic

As obesity takes its toll on the health of adults and children alike. The rise in obesity in populations worldwide since the 1980s has outpaced the rate at which genetic mutations are normally incorporated into populations on a large scale. Growing numbers of persons in parts of the world where obesity was once rare have also gained excessive weight. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), which considered global obesity an epidemic, in 2014 more than 1.9 billion adults (age 18 or older) worldwide were overweight and 600 million, representing 13 percent of the world’s adult population, were obese.

In the United States, about 40 percent of adults (or 93.3 million people) are obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Obesity can increase a person’s risk of diseases and health problems, including high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease. It is a complex problem and a major public health concern, both in the United States and worldwide.

However, some doctors and researchers suggest that using BMI alone may not be the best screening tool for obesity and a better approach may be to take into account a person’s physical, mental and functional health. (Functional health refers to a person’s ability to move around and go about their daily activities.)

Obesity Causes

For most persons affected by obesity, however, the causes of their condition are more complex, involving the interaction of multiple factors. Indeed, the rapid rise in obesity worldwide is likely due to major shifts in environmental factors and changes in behaviour rather than a significant change in human genetics. For example, early feeding patterns imposed by an obese mother upon her offspring may play a major role in a cultural, rather than genetic, transmission of obesity from one generation to the next. Likewise, correlations between childhood obesity and practices such as infant birth by cesarean section, which has risen substantially in incidence worldwide, indicate that environment and behaviour may have a much larger influence on the early onset of obesity than previously thought.

Obesity occurs when people regularly eat and drink more calories than they use. Besides a person’s eating behavior, a number of factors can contribute to obesity, including a lack of physical activity, a lack of sleep, genetics and the use of certain medications that can cause weight gain or water retention, such as corticosteroids, antidepressants or some seizure medications.

According to the Mayo Clinic, environmental factors that promote obesity include: Oversized food portions, busy work schedules with little time for an active lifestyle, limited access to healthy foods at supermarkets, easy access to fast food and lack of safe places for physical activity.

Certain health conditions also can lead to weight gain, including:

Hypothyroidism, an underactive thyroid gland that slows metabolism and causes fatigue and weakness. PCOS, or polycystic ovary syndrome, which affects up to 10 percent of women of childbearing age and can also lead to excess body hair and reproductive problems.

Cushing’s syndrome, which stems from an overproduction of the hormone cortisol by the adrenal glands and is characterized by weight gain in the upper body, face and neck.
Prader-Willi syndrome, a rare genetic condition in which people never feel full, and so they want to eat constantly, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Obesity Health Effects

Generally, obese persons have a shorter life expectancy; they suffer earlier, more often, and more severely from a large number of diseases than do their normal-weight counterparts. For example, people who are obese are also frequently affected by diabetes; in fact, worldwide, roughly 90 percent of type II diabetes cases are caused by excess weight. According to the CDC, obesity increases the risk of developing a number of potentially serious health problems, including:

  • Coronary heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Stroke
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Some cancers (breast, colon, endometrial, gallbladder, kidney, and liver)
  • Sleep apnea
  • High LDL cholesterol, low HDL cholesterol, or high levels of triglycerides
  • Gallstones
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Infertility or irregular periods besides its physical consequences, obesity may also take an emotional toll: Some people with obesity experience depression, feelings of social isolation, discrimination and an overall lower quality of life, according to the Mayo Clinic.

How to improve your health from Obesity

According to the CDC, here are some tips that may help people lose weight successfully:
Keep a daily food diary, which can make people more aware of what foods they eat, when they eat them and how much they consume, as well as identify potentially unhealthy eating habits, such as eating when stressed or not hungry. Make small changes to your eating habits, such as eating more slowly, putting your fork down between bites and drinking more water, which can all help to reduce the number of calories people consume.

Once you’ve lost weight, regular physical activity (60 to 90 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity per day, on most days of the week) can help keep weight off, the CDC says.

In addition, according to the Mayo Clinic, to achieve a healthy weight and adopt healthier eating habits, people may need to see several health professionals, including a dietitian, behavioral therapist, exercise physiologist and obesity expert. Working with a diverse team of health experts can help people make long-term changes in their eating and exercise habits and develop strategies to address any emotional and behavioral issues that may lead to weight gain and unhealthy lifestyle habits.

Treatment for Obesity 

The treatment of obesity has two main objectives: removal of the causative factors, which may be difficult if the causes are of emotional or psychological origin, and removal of surplus fat by reducing food intake. Return to normal body weight by reducing calorie intake is best done under medical supervision. Dietary fads and reducing diets that produce quick results without effort are of doubtful effectiveness in reducing body weight and keeping it down, and most are actually deleterious to health. (See dieting.) Weight loss is best achieved through increased physical activity and basic dietary changes, such as lowering total calorie intake by substituting fruits and vegetables for refined carbohydrates.

Also check: Losing Weight Healthily

Several drugs are approved for the treatment of obesity. Two of them are Belviq (lorcaserin hydrochloride) and Qsymia (phentermine and topiramate). Belviq decreases obese individuals’ cravings for carbohydrate-rich foods by stimulating the release of serotonin, which normally is triggered by carbohydrate intake. Qsymia leverages the weight-loss side effects of topiramate, an antiepileptic drug, and the stimulant properties of phentermine, an existing short-term treatment for obesity.

Other treatment options for obesity include certain prescription and over-the-counter medications that curb appetite, such as orlistat and lorcaserin, but can cause side effects, such as cramping, diarrhea, headaches, dizziness and nausea, according to the Mayo Clinic. Weight loss medication should be used along with diet and exercise to help people lose weight, and some weight loss medications are only intended for short-term use.

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