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The Health Risks of Obesity

  • Date: 2015/08/01
  • Thomas C. Weiss - Disabled World
  • Synopsis : Article looks at the health risks of obesity including obesity related diseases and healthy lifestyle changes.

Main Document

Obesity is a complex disorder involving an excessive amount of body fat, not just a cosmetic concern. It increases a person's risk of health issues and diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure. Being very obese means a person is particularly likely to experience health issues related to their weight.

The word obesity is defined as a medical condition in which excess body fat has accumulated to the extent that it may have a negative effect on health, leading to reduced life expectancy and/or increased health problems. Obesity increases the likelihood of various diseases, particularly heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obstructive sleep apnea, certain types of cancer, and osteoarthritis. Obesity is a leading preventable cause of death worldwide, with increasing rates in adults and children. Diet and exercise are the main treatments for obesity.

The good thing about obesity is that even modest weight loss may prevent or improve the health issues related to obesity. Dietary changes, behavioral changes, as well as increased physical activity can help a person to lose weight. Prescription medications and weight-loss surgery are other options people have for treatment of obesity.

Obesity is diagnosed when a person's body mass index (BMI) is thirty or greater. A body mass index is calculated by dividing your weight in kilograms by your height in meters. For the majority of people, BMI provides a reasonable estimate of body fat. A person's BMI; however, does not directly measure body fat so some people such as muscular athletes may have a BMI in the obese category, even though they do not have excess body fat. It is important to ask a doctor if your BMI is an issue.

Causes of Obesity

While there are behavioral, genetic and hormonal influences on body weight, obesity happens when a person takes in more calories than they burn through usual daily activities or exercise. What this means is that your body stores excess calories as fat. Obesity may at times be traced to a medical cause such as Cushing's syndrome or Prader-Willi syndrome, or other diseases and conditions. The disorders; however, are rare and in general, the main causes of obesity include:

Inactivity: If a person is not very active, they do not burn as many calories. With a sedentary lifestyle, a person may easily take in more calories each day than they use through usual daily activities or exercise.

Unhealthy Eating Habits and Diet: Weight gain is inevitable if a person consistently consumes more calories than they burn. The majority of Americans have a diet that is too high in calories and filled with high-calorie beverages and fast food.

Risk Factors for Obesity

Obesity is usually the result of a combination of causes and contributing factors. These causes and contributing factors include the following:

An Unhealthy Diet: A diet that is high in calories and lacks vegetables and fruit; one that is filled with fast food and high-calorie beverages and over-sized portions contributes to weight gain.

Pregnancy: During pregnancy, a woman's weight increases. Some women find the weight hard to lose following the birth of their child. The weight gain may contribute to the development of obesity in women.

Family Lifestyle: Obesity tends to run in families. If one or both of a person's parents are obese, the person's risk of being obese themselves is increased and not just due to genetics. Family members tend to share similar food and activity habits.

Genetics: A person's genes might affect the amount of body fat they store and where the fat is distributed. Genetics may also have a role in how efficiently a person's body converts food into energy and how their body burns calories as they exercise.

Medical Issues: In some people, obesity can be traced to a medical cause such as Cushing's syndrome or Prader-Willi syndrome, as well as other conditions. Medical issues such as arthritis may also lead to decreased activity - which may then result in weight gain.

Quitting Smoking: Quitting smoking is often associated with gaining weight. For some people, it might lead to enough weight gain that they become obese. Over time; however, quitting smoking remains a greater benefit to a person's health than continuing to smoke.

Lack of Sleep: Failure to receive enough sleep, or getting too much sleep, may cause changes in hormones that increase a person's appetite. They might also crave foods that are high in carbohydrates and calories; something that may contribute to weight gain.

Certain Medications: Some medications can lead to weight gain if a person does not compensate through activity or diet. The medications include some anti-seizure medications, antidepressants, antipsychotic medications, diabetes medications, beta blockers and steroids.

Inactivity: If a person is not very active, they do not burn as many calories. With a sedentary lifestyle, a person may easily take in more calories each day than they burn through usual daily activities and exercise. Experiencing medical issues such as arthritis may lead to decreased activity levels, contributing to weight gain.

Social and Economic Issues: Research has linked social and economic factors to obesity. Avoiding obesity is hard if a person does not have safe areas to exercise in. A person may not have been taught healthy ways of cooking, or may not have the money to buy healthy foods. The people a person spends time with might influence their weight as well, they are more likely to become obese if they have obese family members or friends.

A Person's Age: Obesity can happen at any age - even in young children. Yet as a person ages, hormonal changes and decreased activity increase their risk of obesity. The amount of muscle in a person's body tends to decrease as they age. Lower muscle mass leads to a decrease in the person's metabolism. The changes also reduce the need for calories and might make it more difficult to keep off excess weight. If someone does not consciously control what they eat and become more physically active as they age, they are more likely to gain weight.

Even if a person has one or more of these risk factors, it does not mean they are destined to become obese. A person may counteract the majority of these risk factors through physical exercise, diet and behavioral changes.

Complications of Obesity

If someone is obese they are more likely to develop a number of potentially serious health issues. The health issues can include the following:

Obesity and Quality of Life

When a person is obese, their overall quality of life might be diminished. They may not have the ability to do things they used to do, such as participating in activities that are enjoyable. The person may avoid public places. People who are obese might experience discrimination as well.

People who are obese may experience other weight-related issues that can affect their quality of life. An obese person may experience depression, sexual issues, or disability. The person may also experience guilt, shame, social isolation and a decrease in their work achievement.

Learn More

  • Obesity
  • Childhood obesity
  • Obesity Tests & Diagnosis


Data from the U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 2009 - 2010 2, 3

  • More than 1 in 3 adults are considered to be obese.
  • More than 1 in 20 adults are considered to have extreme obesity.
  • More than 2 in 3 adults are considered to be overweight or obese.
  • More than 1 in 6 children and adolescents ages 6 to 19 are considered to be obese.
  • About one-third of children and adolescents ages 6 to 19 are considered to be overweight or obese.

NOTE: Children grow at different rates at different times, so it is not always easy to tell if a child is overweight. BMI charts for children compare their height and weight to other children of their same sex and age.

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