What to Know About Obesity

Obesity is defined as having a body mass index (or BMI) of 30 or higher. It is considered a chronic disease, like diabetes or high blood pressure and can lead to serious long-term health risks.

About Body Mass Index (BMI)

Body mass index is the most common way to check for obesity. BMI is a measure of weight relative to height, and is used as an estimation of how much body fat you have. To determine your BMI, multiply your weight in pounds by 703. Then, divide by your height in inches, squared.

Those with a BMI of less than 18.5 are considered underweight, while a normal weight range is a BMI between 18.5 and 25. Those with a BMI of 25 to 30 are considered overweight, but not obese. Class I obesity is 25 to 30, class II is between 35 and 40, and those with a BMI of 40 or higher are considered to have class III obesity, sometimes described as ‘morbidly obese.’

What Are The Causes

Obesity occurs when more calories are consumed than the body uses. The underlying reason for this imbalance varies by individual. Causes can include genetics, emotional overeating, age and sex (which affect metabolism), environmental factors such as lifestyle and pregnancy. There are also certain medications and medical conditions that can cause obesity, although they are less common causes than overeating and a sedentary lifestyle. Examples include:

  • Hypothyroidism
  • Depression
  • Cushing Syndrome
  • Prader-Willi syndrome
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome
  • Menopause
  • Medications such as steroids and birth control pills

Obesity Health Risks

Many obese people experience increased health problems or reduced life expectancy. In fact, its is the second leading cause of preventable deaths in the U.S., behind tobacco. It is viewed as one of the most serious health problems of the 21st century.

A wide range of health conditions are associated with obesity, because excess weight puts additional stress on every area of the body. If you are obese, you are at higher risk for the following health issues:

  • Arthritis
  • Asthma
  • Bone and joint problems such as osteoarthritis
  • Certain cancers
  • Diabetes
  • Gallstones and liver issues
  • High cholesterol
  • Heart disease
  • Heart attacks
  • Heart failure
  • High blood pressure (hypertension)
  • Sleep apnea (stopping breathing during sleep)
  • Stroke

American Obesity Epidemic

Obesity is considered an epidemic in many parts of the world, including the United States. Rates are on the rise in the United States and in most other developed nations; over the past two decades the prevalence of obesity increased in adults across all income and education levels. As of 2005, the World Health Organization estimated that at least 400 million adults worldwide were obese. More than half of all Americans are overweight or obese and nearly a third of children are considered obese.

Not only does obesity have serious health consequences, but it also takes an economic toll. An estimated $45 billion is spent each year treating health conditions associated with obesity. When these health conditions cause obese people to miss work, businesses suffer an estimated $20 billion in lost productivity. Learn about the various options for weight loss including bariatric surgery.