Obesity isn't just a cosmetic concern. It is a medical problem that increases the risk of heart disease, diabetes and certain cancers.
Obesity is a complex disease involving having too much body fat. Obesity isn't just a cosmetic concern. It's a medical problem that increases the risk of many other diseases and health problems. These can include heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, liver disease, sleep apnea and certain cancers.
There are many reasons why some people have trouble losing weight. Often, obesity results from inherited, physiological and environmental factors, combined with diet, physical activity and exercise choices.
The good news is that even modest weight loss can improve or prevent the health problems associated with obesity. A healthier diet, increased physical activity and behavior changes can help you lose weight. Prescription medicines and weight-loss procedures are other options for treating obesity.
Body mass index, known as BMI, is often used to diagnose obesity. To calculate BMI, multiply weight in pounds by 703, divide by height in inches and then divide again by height in inches. Or divide weight in kilograms by height in meters squared. There are several online calculators available that help calculate BMI.
See BMI calculator
|30.0 and higher
Asians with a BMI of 23 or higher may have an increased risk of health problems.
For most people, BMI provides a reasonable estimate of body fat. However, BMI doesn't directly measure body fat. Some people, such as muscular athletes, may have a BMI in the obesity category even though they don't have excess body fat.
Many health care professionals also measure around a person's waist to help guide treatment decisions. This measurement is called a waist circumference. Weight-related health problems are more common in men with a waist circumference over 40 inches (102 centimeters). They're more common in women with a waist measurement over 35 inches (89 centimeters). Body fat percentage is another measurement that may be used during a weight loss program to track progress.
If you're concerned about your weight or weight-related health problems, ask your health care professional about obesity management. You and your health care team can evaluate your health risks and discuss your weight-loss options.
Although there are genetic, behavioral, metabolic and hormonal influences on body weight, obesity occurs when you take in more calories than you burn through typical daily activities and exercise. Your body stores these excess calories as fat.
In the United States, most people's diets are too high in calories — often from fast food and high-calorie beverages. People with obesity might eat more calories before feeling full, feel hungry sooner, or eat more due to stress or anxiety.
Many people who live in Western countries now have jobs that are much less physically demanding, so they don't tend to burn as many calories at work. Even daily activities use fewer calories, courtesy of conveniences such as remote controls, escalators, online shopping, and drive-through restaurants and banks.
Obesity often results from a combination of causes and contributing factors:
The genes you inherit from your parents may affect the amount of body fat you store, and where that fat is distributed. Genetics also may play a role in how efficiently your body converts food into energy, how your body regulates your appetite and how your body burns calories during exercise.
Obesity tends to run in families. That's not just because of the genes they share. Family members also tend to share similar eating and activity habits.
In some people, obesity can be traced to a medical cause, such as hypothyroidism, Cushing syndrome, Prader-Willi syndrome and other conditions. Medical problems, such as arthritis, also can lead to decreased activity, which may result in weight gain.
Some medicines can lead to weight gain if you don't compensate through diet or activity. These medicines include steroids, some antidepressants, anti-seizure medicines, diabetes medicines, antipsychotic medicines and certain beta blockers.
Social and economic factors are linked to obesity. It's hard to avoid obesity if you don't have safe areas to walk or exercise. You may not have learned healthy ways of cooking. Or you may not have access to healthier foods. Also, the people you spend time with may influence your weight. You're more likely to develop obesity if you have friends or relatives with obesity.
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. The amount of muscle in your body also tends to decrease with age. Lower muscle mass often 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.
Even if you have one or more of these risk factors, it doesn't mean that you're destined to develop obesity. You can counteract most risk factors through diet, physical activity and exercise. Behavior changes, medicines and procedures for obesity also can help.
People with obesity are more likely to develop a number of potentially serious health problems, including:
Obesity can diminish the overall quality of life. You may not be able to do physical activities that you used to enjoy. You may avoid public places. People with obesity may even encounter discrimination.
Other weight-related issues that may affect your quality of life include:
To diagnose obesity, your health care professional may perform a physical exam and recommend some tests.
These exams and tests often include:
Gathering this information will help you and your health care team choose the type of treatment that will work best for you.
The goal of obesity treatment is to reach and stay at a healthy weight. This improves overall health and lowers the risk of developing complications related to obesity.
You may need to work with a team of health professionals — including a dietitian, behavioral counselor or an obesity specialist — to help you understand and make changes in your eating and activity habits.
The first treatment goal is usually a modest weight loss — 5% to 10% of your total weight. That means that if you weigh 200 pounds (91 kilograms), you'd need to lose only about 10 to 20 pounds (4.5 to 9 kilograms) for your health to begin to improve. But the more weight you lose, the greater the benefits.
All weight-loss programs require that you change your eating habits and get more active. The treatment methods that are right for you depend on your weight, your overall health and your willingness to participate in a weight-loss plan.
Reducing calories and practicing healthier eating habits are key 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. It's also the best way to keep weight off permanently.
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:
Be wary of quick fixes. You may be tempted by fad diets that promise fast and easy weight loss. But the reality 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 must adopt healthy-eating habits that you can maintain over time.
Getting more physical activity or exercise is an essential part of obesity treatment:
A behavior modification program can help you make lifestyle changes to lose weight and keep it off. Steps to take include looking at your current habits to find out what factors, stresses or situations may have contributed to your obesity.
Weight-loss medicines are meant to be used along with diet, exercise and behavior changes, not instead of them. Before selecting a medication for you, your health care professional will consider your health history, as well as possible side effects.
The most commonly used medications approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of obesity include:
Weight-loss medicines may not work for everyone, and the effects may wane over time. When you stop taking a weight-loss medicine, you may regain much or all of the weight you lost.
These types of procedures don't require any cuts, also called incisions, in the skin. After you are under anesthesia, flexible tubes and tools are inserted through the mouth and down the throat into the stomach. Common procedures include:
Also known as bariatric surgery, weight-loss surgery limits how much food you can eat. Some procedures also limit the amount of calories and nutrients you can absorb. But this also can result in nutritional and vitamin deficiencies.
Common weight-loss surgeries include:
Weight-loss success after surgery depends on your commitment to making lifelong changes in your eating and exercise habits.
Other treatments for obesity include:
Your effort to overcome obesity is more likely to be successful if you follow strategies at home along with your formal treatment plan. These can include:
Many dietary supplements that promise to help you shed weight quickly are available. The long-term effectiveness and safety of these products are often questionable.
Talk to your health care professional or therapist about improving your coping skills. Consider these tips to cope with obesity and your weight-loss efforts:
Talking to your health care professional openly and honestly about your weight concerns is one of the best things you can do for your health. In some cases, you may be referred to an obesity specialist — if one is available in your area. You also may be referred to a behavioral counselor or dietitian.
Being an active participant in your care is important. One way to do this is by preparing for your appointment. Think about your needs and goals for treatment. Also, write down a list of questions to ask. These questions may include:
Be sure to let your health care team know about any medical conditions you have and about any medicines, vitamins or supplements that you take.
During your appointment, your health care professional is likely to ask you a number of questions about your weight, eating, activity, mood and thoughts, and any symptoms you might have. You may be asked questions such as:
If you have time before your scheduled appointment, you can get ready for the appointment by keeping a diet diary for two weeks before the appointment. You also can record how many steps you take in a day by using a step counter, called a pedometer.
And you can begin to make choices that will help you start to lose weight, including: