Written by eHealth Navigator

What is obesity?

Obesity means having too much body fat. It is not the same as being overweight, which means weighing too much. A person may be overweight from extra muscle, bone, or water, as well as from having too much fat.

Both terms mean that a person's weight is higher than what is thought to be healthy for his or her height.

What are the causes and risk factors?

Taking in more calories than you burn can lead to obesity because the body stores unused calories as fat. Obesity can be caused by:
•  Eating more food than your body can use
•  Drinking too much alcohol
•  Not getting enough exercise

Sometimes, medical problems or treatments cause weight gain, including:
•  Under active thyroid gland
•  Medicines such as birth control pills, antidepressants, and antipsychotics

Other things that can cause weight gain are:
•  Quitting smoking. Most people who quit smoking gain 4 - 10 pounds in the first 6 months after quitting. Some people gain as much as 25 - 30 pounds.
•  Stress, anxiety, feeling sad, or not sleeping well
•  For women:
•  Menopause -- women may gain 12-15 pounds during menopause
•  Not losing the weight they gained during pregnancy

What are the tests?

The health care provider will perform a physical exam and ask questions about your medical history, eating habits, and exercise routine.

The two most common ways to measure health risks from your weight are:
•  Body mass index (BMI)
•  Waist circumference (your waist measurement in inches)

BMI is measured using height and weight. You and your health care provider can use your BMI to estimate how much body fat you have.
Your waist measurement is another way to estimate how much body fat you have. Extra weight around your middle or stomach area increases your risk for type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. People with "apple-shaped" bodies (meaning their waist is bigger than their hips) also have an increased risk for these diseases.
Skin fold measurements may be taken to check your body fat percentage.
Blood tests may be done to look for thyroid or hormone problems that could lead to weight gain.

What are the treatments?

Lifestyle Modification
An active lifestyle and regular exercise along with healthy eating, is the best way to lose weight. Even modest weight loss can improve your health.

Many people find it hard to change their eating habits and behaviors. You need to be motivated to make lifestyle changes. Make the behavior change part of your life over the long term. Know that it takes time to make and keep a change in your lifestyle.

Work with your health care provider and dietitian to set realistic, safe daily calorie counts that help you lose weight while staying healthy. Remember that if you drop pounds slowly and steadily, you are more likely to keep them off. Your dietitian can teach you about:
•  Healthy food choices
•  Healthy snacks
•  Sweetened drinks
•  Portion sizes
•  How to read the nutrition labels
•  New ways to prepare food

Extreme diets (fewer than 1,100 calories per day) are not thought to be safe or to work very well. These types of diets often do not contain enough vitamins and minerals. Most people who lose weight this way return to overeating and become obese again.
Learn new ways to manage stress, rather than snacking. Examples may be meditation, yoga, or exercise. If you are depressed or stressed a lot, talk to your health care provider.

What about surgical treatments?

Bariatric surgery can reduce the risk of disease in people with severe obesity. These risks include:
•  Arthritis
•  Diabetes
•  Heart disease
•  High blood pressure
•  Sleep apnea
•  Some cancers
•  Stroke

Surgery may help people who have been very obese for 5 years or more and have not lost weight from other treatments, such as diet, exercise, or medicine.
Surgery alone is not the answer for weight loss. It can train you to eat less, but you still have to do much of the work. You must be committed to diet and exercise after the surgery. Talk to your doctor to learn if this is a good option for you.

The two most common weight-loss surgeries are:
•  Gastric banding
•  Gastric bypass surgery

You may have complications from these surgeries. One problem some people have is throwing up if they eat more than their new small stomach can hold.

What are the complications?

Obesity is a major health threat. The extra weight puts added stress on every part of your body.

People with obesity are at risk for these health problems:
•  Bone and joint problems -- extra weight puts strain on the bones and joints. This can lead to osteoarthritis, a disease that causes joint pain and stiffness.
•  Diabetes
•  Gallstones and liver problems
•  Heart attack from coronary heart disease, congestive heart failure, and stroke
•  High cholesterol and triglycerides
•  Hypertension / high blood pressure
•  Sleep apnea

Last Updated on Sunday, 3 February 2013 1:13PM