Obesity has become a serious health problem in the United States: nearly 35% of Americans are affected. It is, in fact, a national epidemic according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And it is not just a weight problem: it can have serious effects on a person’s physical, metabolic and psychological health
Obesity is not just a problem of “girth control,” it is now considered a chronic disease by the American Medical Association, the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists, and the American College of Endocrinology, the Endocrine Society, the Obesity Society, the American Society of Bariatric Physicians and the National Institutes of Health.
We should be aware of the danger of becoming less active as we move into the winter season, especially as it relates to excess weight and obesity. Obesity is not just cosmetic in nature but entails a medical problem that increases your risk of other diseases and health problems, such as heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and certain cancers.
It is heartening to know that even modest weight loss can help improve or prevent health problems associated with obesity. Losing just 5 to 10 percent of your current weight can reduce your risk of developing these health issues.
Dietary changes, increasing physical activity and behavior change can help with weight loss. More extreme cases may need to be addressed through prescription medications and weight loss procedures.
The diagnosis of obesity is made when your body mass index is 30 or higher. The following scale is used with regards to weight when obtaining your BMI results:
• Below 18.5 – Underweight
•18.5-24.9 – Normal
• 25.0-29.9 – Overweight
• 30.0 and higher – Obesity
To calculate your BMI go to the following site:
BMI provides a reliable estimate of body fat for most people. As BMI is not a direct measurement of body fat, some individuals such as muscular athletes may have a BMI reading in the obesity range while they do not, in fact, have excess body fat.
Your waist circumference (visceral or abdominal fat) can increase your risk for heart disease and diabetes. It is recommended that you measure your waist circumference yearly. Fat stored around your waist, sometimes called visceral fat or abdominal fat, may further increase your risk of heart disease and diabetes. Women with a waist measurement (circumference) of more than 35 inches (89 centimeters, or cm) and men with a waist measurement of more than 40 inches (102 cm) may have more health risks than individuals with smaller waist circumferences.
Although many-varied genetic, behavioral, metabolic and hormonal influences are involved with regards to body weight, the major take away point with regards to obesity is that an excess intake of calories (i.e., we consume more calories than we burn through physical activity) contributes to weight gain and can lead to obesity. The excess caloric intake is stored as fat.
The majority of U.S diets are too high in calories, often through consumption of fast foods and beverages. Obese individuals may feel hunger pains sooner, eat more due to stress or anxiety or might even consume more calories before feeling full.
There are a number of contributing factors with regards to obesity with a focus on genetics. These may include:
• Inherited genes from parents can affect body fat stores as well as fat distribution
• Your bodies’ conversion of food into energy, regulation of appetite and calories burnt during exercise
In addition, there seems to be a tendency toward obesity in some families. Eating patterns may be similar as well as activity patterns in addition to their genetics.
Other key factors contributing to obesity focus on lifestyle choices that include consumption of unhealthy diets, intake of liquid calories and being inactive (i.e., a sedentary lifestyle).
Diets that contain an excessive amount of calories, insufficient fruits and vegetables, an overconsumption high-calorie beverages and oversize portion can all contribute to excessive weight gain and obesity.
High calorie beverages containing “empty” calories can lead to significant weight gain. This includes alcohol as one may consume these beverages without feeling full.
Finally, a sedentary lifestyle can lead to excessive weight gain, as the calories you take in are not expended through exercise or your daily physical activity. There is a high association between weight gain and the number of hours you spend in front of a screen.
People living with obesity have higher chances of developing a range of serious medical issues. These health problems affect nearly every part of the body, including the brain, blood vessels, heart, liver, gallbladder, bones and joints.
The key to achieving and maintaining a healthy weight isn’t short-term dietary changes; it’s about a lifestyle that includes healthy eating and regular physical activity.
The following resource links may be helpful in providing additional information on the serious complications related to obesity.
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disease
A good overall resource that provides an explanation and overall practical recommendations for addressing the issue of obesity is available, Understanding Adult Overweight & Obesity at the following link:
Florida Specific Initiatives
Healthiest Weight Florida is a public-private collaboration bringing together state agencies, not for profit organizations, businesses, and entire communities to help Florida’s children and adults make choices about healthy eating and active living. Access their website at:
Mark A. Mahoney, Ph.D. has been a Registered Dietitian/Nutritionist for over 30 years and completed graduate studies in Nutrition & Public Health at Columbia University. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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