What is obesity?

Obesity is a condition marked by excess accumulation of body fat. Genetic factors play a role in the development of obesity, but so do behavioral factors – especially overeating and exercising too little. The WHO defines an adult who has a body mass index (BMI) between 25 and 29.9 as overweight, and an adult who has a BMI of 30 or higher is considered obese.
Obesity can lead to a number of other health conditions, including heart disease, sleep apnea, diabetes, osteoarthritis, asthma, some cancers, and other problems. Some researchers believe that obesity is second only to smoking as a preventable cause of death. 
Overweight and obesity and their associated health problems have a significant economic impact on health systems. Direct medical costs include preventive, diagnostic, and treatment services related to obesity, while indirect costs include loss of income from decreased productivity, restricted activity, absenteeism, bed days, and income lost by premature death.
Risk factors
There are many factors that increase one’s risk of becoming overweight or obese. Some risk factors can be changed, such as unhealthy lifestyle habits. Other factors, such as age, family history and genes, race, and sex, cannot be changed. Adopting healthy lifestyle habits can decrease your risk for becoming overweight or obese. 
  • Unhealthy lifestyle habits: Lack of physical activity, unhealthy eating habits, insufficient sleep, and high stress levels.
  • Age: The risk of unhealthy weight gain increases as you age. Adults with a healthy BMI often start to gain weight in young adulthood and continue to gain weight until 60-65 years old.
  • Environment: Low socioeconomic status, easy access to unhealthy foods, limited access to recreational facilities and parks, and exposure to chemicals known as obesogens that can change hormones and increase fatty tissue in our bodies. 
  • Family history and genetics: Studies have shown that weight problems and obesity can run in families, so it is possible that our genes or DNA can cause these conditions.
  • Race/ethnicity: Rates of obesity in American adults are highest in blacks, followed by Hispanics, then whites. 
  • Sex: In the US, obesity is more common in black or Hispanic women than in black or Hispanic men. A person’s sex may also affect the way the body stores fat.
The diagnosis of obesity is usually based on a physical examination and a patient history (eating and exercise habits). A measurement called the body mass index (BMI) does not directly measure body fat, but is a useful tool to determine the health risk associated with being overweight or obese. A BMI of 18.5-24.9 is considered within the healthy range. BMI is calculated as follows:
BMI = body weight (kg) ÷ height2 (m)
Your doctor may also use other measurements, such as waist size, to evaluate health risks associated with excess abdominal fat. When BMI and waist size indicate a high risk for health problems, additional tests may also be performed.
Treatment for overweight and obesity depends on the cause of severity of the condition. Possible treatments involve healthy lifestyle changes, behavioral weightloss treatment programs, medications, and possibly surgery. You may also need treatment for any complications that you have.  
  • More than 1/3 (36.5%) of US adults are considered obese
  • The estimated annual medical cost of obesity in the US was $147 billion in 2008
  • The medical costs for people who have obesity were $1,429 higher than those of normal weight
  • Non-hispanic blacks have the highest age-adjusted rates of obesity (48.1%) followed by Hispanics (42.5%), non-Hispanic whites (34.5%), and non-Hispanic Asians (11.7%).
  • The prevalence of obesity among American children and adolescents aged 2-19 is about 17%, and affects approximately 12.7 million.
about obesity

  • “Overweight & Obesity.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 29 Aug. 2017, www.cdc.gov/obesity/data/adult.html.
  • “What Is Obesity?” News-Medical.net, 30 Oct. 2017, www.news-medical.net/health/What-is-Obesity.aspx.
  • “What Is Obesity.” What Is Obesity - The Obesity Society, www.obesity.org/obesity/resources/facts-about-obesity/what-is-obesity.
  • Obesity Information, www.heart.org/HEARTORG/HealthyLiving/WeightManagement/Obesity/Obesity-Information_UCM_307908_Article.jsp#.WgyvNxNSyAw.
  • “How Are Obesity & Overweight Diagnosed?” Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, www.nichd.nih.gov/health/topics/obesity/conditioninfo/pages/diagnosed.aspx.


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