Obesity has been labeled as the most dangerous pandemic for the twenty first century by many social and health care commentators. While the idea of a non-communicable and non-pathogenic physical condition may not fit the traditional definition of a pandemic, the parallels are valid nonetheless.
Obesity is related to many of the leading causes of death in the western world, and the rate of obesity has increased alarmingly in the last several decades. In fact, the prevalence and severity of obesity is so great today that many experts fear that the current generation may be the first one in many centuries that will have a life span that is less than that of the previous generation.
Clearly, obesity is a major problem, and the health care community is working to make obesity detection and treatment a public health priority.
While obesity can often be caused by an underlying physical disorder, as in the case of diabetes obesity or other obesity disease, the most common cause is a poorly controlled diet and a sedentary lifestyle. Obesity is increasing most precipitously in the young, and obesity in kids as well as teenage obesity are considered to be particularly worrying.
To determine if someone is seriously obese instead of just “big boned” or plump, it is necessary to have a scientific way of measuring obesity. Simply measuring the weight of an individual is insufficient since other factors such as body type and height impact the weight of the individual without contributing to obesity. The most common way of obtaining a true measure of the relative level of obesity in an individual is to use the body mass index.
A body mass index measurement is simply a ratio of the weight of the individual to his or her height. While body mass index measurements do provide a standard way to measure obesity, the approach is not terribly sophisticated and can not take into account whether the weight is caused by muscle or fat. More complex methods of obesity metrology are often used. One of the most common second level metrics is the body fat measurement.
The most accurate way to measure body fat concentration is to measure how much a person weighs in the air and then weigh them again in the water. Since fat is more buoyant than muscle, it is possible to get a decent measurement of the ratio of muscle to fat weight using this technique. However, measuring body fat in this way requires special equipment and is not suitable for the average patient.
There are other methods such as the skin fold test as well as more sophisticated electrical measurements that can be used to approximate body fat levels.