What is Obesity?
Obesity is defined as having too much body fat - being obese should not be confused with being overweight. A person who is overweight may be so due to excess muscle, water, or fat in the body. Only a medical professional should diagnose obesity based on a proper medical exam.
What Causes Obesity?
When the body takes in more calories than it is burning, this can lead to an excess of stored fat. This can also derive from drinking too much alcohol, and from a lack of exercise. While there are factors that can be controlled in keeping body fat in a healthy range, there are also studies that show biology may be a major factor.
Additional factors that can affect body fat and weight:
- Eating habits learned in childhood
- Lack of time for healthy meals versus easier fast food meals
- Not making time for regular exercise
What Are The Risk Factors for Obesity?
There are several risk factors that can contribute to obesity. These risk factors can be heightened or caused by obesity as well. They include:
- Having an eating disorder
- Certain medications (antidepressants, hormone medications, antipsychotics)
- Stress and anxiety
- Lack of sleep, insomnia
- Menopause (for women)
- Pregnancy weight that doesn't shed post pregnancy
- Family history of obesity
- Family and peer problems
- Poor eating habits
- Overeating, binge eating
- Lack of regular exercise
What Are The Related Health Conditions?
Obesity is often a gateway to other medical conditions that can seriously threaten your quality of life. The extra weight on the body adds stress, and can lead to serious health threats.
- Strain on bones and joints, leading to osteoarthritis
- Liver failure
- Heart disease
- Heart attacks due to coronary heart disease, congestive heart failure, or stroke
- High blood cholesterol
- High triglycerides
- High blood pressure (hypertension)
- High blood sugar (diabetes)
- Sleep apnea (lack of breathing during sleep)
- Respiratory issues
- Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)
- Dyslipidemia (lipid levels in the blood)
Kids and Obesity:
Many medical professionals believe that obesity begins in childhood from a lack of nutritional education at an early age, a lack of healthy eating habits, and a lack of exercise at an early age. Increased social pressures on children can also lead to stress eating, or binge eating, that puts children at risk of not only obesity but also sleep disturbances, diabetes, irregular menstruation for girls, and more.
Children who are obese are more likely to develop high cholesterol, heart disease, arthritis, asthma, and certain cancers, once they become adults.
Childhood obesity is also a leading factor in childhood bullying. This can cause severe emotional stress, which is often the cause of emotional binge eating, and can lead to teen depression. It creates a circle of negative eating that can be hard to break once it becomes a habit in a child's life.
It is estimated that in the US there are approximately 12 million children, ages 2 to 19, who are diagnosed as obese.
Ways that you can manage obesity in children include:
- Adjust your child's eating habits to healthier options
- Plan meals to include more nutritious selections
- Reduce between meals snacks when not active
- Encourage more physical activities
- Get to know what your child is eating at school
- Do not use food as a reward or punishment
Only a medical professional can diagnose obesity, and they do so by using the Body Mass Index (BMI). The Body Mass Index is a tool that measures a person's weight in relation to the person's height.
The BMI is calculated by taking a person's weight in kilograms and dividing by the square of the person's height in meters. It can also be calculated by using pounds and inches, though some doctors may argue that it is not as accurate. A person with a BMI of over 30 is considered obese.
What Treatment Options Are Available?
The best treatment you can undergo is changing your lifestyle to help promote healthy weight loss. Some of the best changes you can make include:
- Eating better, nutritious meals
- Portion control at meals
- Reading nutrition labels to educate yourself on what you’re putting in your body
- Exercising more, and getting more active
- Manage your stress better to avoid stress eating
- Try meditation or yoga
- If depressed, seek treatment to manage those symptoms
- Get a good night’s sleep on a regular basis
Extreme diets, or fad diets, are NOT recommended as they are not considered safe. These diets often stress the body out by depriving it of important nutrients and vitamins. In many cases, after the weight has been shed from a crash diet, the weight returns. It is not uncommon for dieters to cave and overeat because their body is desperate for nutrients.
There are prescription medications on the market to assist with weight loss. However, studies have shown that the weight returns once the medication runs out. A medical professional can help you determine if weight loss drugs are the right option for you.
For those who are struggling with additional health conditions connected to obesity, surgery may be an option to help with weight loss. Typically surgery is only recommended for patients who have struggled with obesity for a minimum of five years, and who have tried and failed less invasive options such as changes to the diet and exercise. Surgery will also not cure you of obesity, but rather will train the body to consume less. You will still have to maintain a healthy diet and exercise regularly.
Gastric bypass: a surgery that is performed by stapling the stomach to divide it into two sections (small upper section and larger bottom section). The top portion is where food you consume will go, and this section will only hold about one ounce of food.
After the stomach has been sectioned off, the surgeon will reroute a small part of the small intestine to the smaller pouch of the stomach. This allows food consumed to run directly to the small section, therefore reducing the amount of food the body can hold and absorb.
Gastric bypass can be done as an open surgery, using a large cut in the belly, or laparoscopically, using a small cut with a camera.
Laparoscopic Gastric Banding (also known as a "Lap Band" Procedure): a surgery utilizing a band around the upper portion of the stomach to create a small pouch for food. The band will limit the amount of food that can be held in the stomach, which will give you a feeling of being full after consuming smaller portions. Banding is often done via laparoscopy, where a small cut is made in the abdomen and a camera is inserted inside.
No internal cutting is involved in a laparoscopic gastric band procedure, as the band allows food to flow through to the lower and larger portion of the stomach, but the smaller upper portion will give you that full feeling when eating.
As with many surgeries, there are risks involved. With all weight loss surgeries you run the risk of blood clots, blood loss, breathing issues, heart attack or stroke post-surgery, and infection. Weight loss surgeries also increase your risk for gallstones, so it not uncommon for a doctor to recommend gallbladder removal prior to a weight loss surgery.
Gastric banding runs additional risks of band erosion, gastritis (inflamed stomach lining), gastric band slippage, injury to other organs during surgery, scarring inside the belly, the need for additional surgeries to tighten or loosen the band, or vomiting from eating more than the stomach pouch can handle in the new smaller size.
Eating disorder support groups such as Overeaters Anonymous are another great resource for fighting obesity by receiving support from others who are struggling with the same health issues.
Obesity Society offers information on intervention and prevention of obesity. In addition to advocacy for research and treatment options, they also offer education programs and a newsletter.
Overeaters Anonymous can help you find local meetings to help get overeating habits under control.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers information and statistics on obesity in the US, and includes state and community programs for preventing obesity.
World Health Organization (WHO) offers information and publications on obesity, nutrition, and physical activities to help combat obesity.
Obesity in America is an organization helping to fight and prevent obesity in the US.
Teens Health is a great source for information on keeping kids healthy and active to fight obesity.
American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry offers information on obesity in children and teens.