Though we all use the terms “fat” and “obese” casually in conversation, there is a medical definition of the condition and yes, obesity is considered a health “condition.”
It is a term used to describe body weight that is much greater than what is considered healthy. Measuring the exact amount of a person’s body fat is not easy. The most accurate measures are to weigh a person underwater or in a chamber that uses air displacement to measure body volume, or to use an X-ray test called Dual Energy X-ray Absorptiometry, also known as DEXA. These methods are not practical for the average person, and are done only in research centers with special equipment.
There are also other ways to determine if a person is obese, but experts believe that a person’s body mass index (BMI) is the most accurate measurement of body fat for children and adults. Adults with a BMI greater than 30 are considered obese. You will be surprised to know that nearly one-thirds of the world’s population is overweight. Rates of obesity are climbing. The percentage of children who are overweight has doubled in the last 20 years. The percentage of adolescents who are obese has tripled in the last 20 years. Morbid obesity is typically defined as being 100 pounds or more over ideal body weight or having a BMI of 40 or higher. Obesity becomes “morbid” when it significantly increases the risk of one or more obesity-related health conditions or serious diseases (also known as co-morbidities). According to the NIH Consensus Report, morbid obesity is a serious chronic disease, meaning that its symptoms build slowly over an extended period of time. Today 97 million Americans, more than one-third of the adult population, are overweight or obese. An estimated 5-10 million of those are considered morbidly obese.
Overweight and obesity
Overweight and obesity are both labels for ranges of weight that are greater than what is generally considered healthy for a given height. For adults, overweight and obesity ranges are determined by using weight and height to calculate a number called the “body mass index” (BMI). BMI is used because, for most people, it correlates with their amount of body fat.
* An adult who has a BMI between 25 and 29.9 is considered overweight.
* An adult who has a BMI of 30 or higher is considered obese.
It is important to remember that although BMI correlates with the amount of body fat, BMI does not directly measure body fat. As a result, some people, such as athletes, may have a BMI that identifies them as overweight even though they do not have excess body fat. Other methods of estimating body fat and body fat distribution include measurements of skin fold thickness and waist circumference, calculation of waist-to-hip circumference ratios, and techniques such as ultrasound, computed tomography, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
The obesity epidemic covered on TV and in the newspapers did not occur overnight. Obesity and overweight are chronic conditions. Obesity has already reached epidemic proportions in the United States. One in three Americans is obese. Obesity is also increasing rapidly throughout the world, and the incidence of obesity has nearly doubled form 1991 to 1998. Overall there are a variety of factors that play a role in obesity. This makes it a complex health issue to address.
Causes of obesity
Overweight and obesity are a result of energy imbalance over a long period of time. The cause of energy imbalance for each individual may be due to a combination of several factors. Obesity occurs when a person consumes more calories from food than he or she burns. Our bodies need calories to sustain life and be physically active, but to maintain weight we need to balance the energy we eat with the energy we use. When a person eats more calories than he or she burns, the energy balance is tipped toward weight gain and obesity. This imbalance between calories-in and calories-out may differ from one person to another. If you look carefully at the energy balance scale ( given below), weight gain is a result of extra calorie consumption, decreased calories used (reduced physical activity) or both. Personal choices concerning calorie consumption and physical activity can lead to energy imbalance.
In most cases, obesity results from genetic, environmental and psychological factors. But sometimes certain illnesses can also lead to weight gain or obesity, e.g. endocrine disorders (such as hypothyroidism and Cushing’s syndrome) or neurological problems. In addition to this, certain drugs such as steroids and some antidepressants, can lead to either weight gain or increased appetite. Let us discuss these causes in details now:
Today, a changing environment has broadened food options and eating habits. Grocery stores stock their shelves with a greater selection of products. Pre-packaged foods, fast food restaurants, and soft drinks are also more accessible. While such foods are fast and convenient they also tend to be high in fat, sugar, and calories. Choosing many foods from these areas may contribute to an excessive calorie intake. This results in increased calorie consumption. If the body does not burn off the extra calories consumed from larger portions, fast food, or soft drinks, weight gain can occur.
Our bodies need calories for daily functions such as breathing, digestion, and daily activities. Weight gain occurs when calories consumed exceed this need. Physical activity plays a key role in energy balance because it uses up calories consumed. Despite all the benefits of being physically active, most of us are sedentary. Technology has created many time and labour saving products. Some examples include cars, elevators, washing machines, dishwashers, and televisions. Cars are used to run short distance errands instead of people walking or riding a bicycle. As a result, these recent lifestyle changes have reduced the overall amount of energy expended in our daily lives. According to the Behavioural Risk Factor Surveillance System, in 2000 more than 26% of adults reported no leisure time physical activity. The belief that physical activity is limited to exercise or sports, may keep people from being active. Another myth is that physical activity must be vigorous to achieve health benefits. Physical activity is any bodily movement that results in an expenditure of energy. But when we fail to do any physical activity, it just leads to calorie storage.
People may make decisions based on their environment or community. For example, a person may choose not to walk to the store or to work because of a lack of sidewalks. Communities, homes, and workplaces can all influence people’s health decisions. Because of this influence, it is important to create environments in these locations that make it easier to engage in physical activity and to eat a healthy diet.
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