The crisis is obesity. It’s the fastest-growing cause of disease and death in America. And it’s completely preventable. — The Surgeon General
What is Obesity?
Obesity specifically refers to an excessive amount of body fat. "Overweight" refers to an excessive amount of body weight that includes muscle, bone, fat, and water. As a rule, women have more body fat than men. Most health care professionals agree that men with more than 25 percent body fat and women with more than 30 percent body fat are obese. These numbers should not be confused with the body mass index (BMI), however, which is more commonly used by health care professionals to determine the effect of body weight on the risk for some diseases.
What is Morbid Obesity?
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), a person is considered "obese" when he or she weighs 20 percent or more than his or her ideal body weight. At that point, the person's weight poses a real health risk. 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).
Morbid obesity sometimes called "clinically severe obesity" is defined as being 100 lbs. or more over ideal body weight or having a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 40 or higher.
What Causes Morbid Obesity?
It is said that this normally 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. Genetic, environmental, and other factors may all play a part.
Obesity tends to run in families, suggesting a genetic cause. However, families also share diet and lifestyle habits that may contribute to obesity. Separating genetic from other influences is often difficult. Even so, science does show a hereditary link.
Environmental and Social Factors
There are strong environmental influences. Consider that most people in the United States alive today were also alive in 1980, when obesity rates were lower. Since this time, our genetic make-up has not changed, but our environment has. Environment includes lifestyle behaviors such as what a person eats and his or her level of physical activity. Too often Americans eat out, consume large meals and high-fat foods, and put taste and convenience ahead of nutrition. Also, most people in the United States do not get enough physical activity.
Environment also includes the world around us–our access to places to walk and healthy foods, for example. Today, more people drive long distances to work instead of walking, live in neighborhoods without sidewalks, tend to eat out or get “take out” instead of cooking, or have vending machines with high-calorie, high-fat snacks at their workplace. Our environment often does not support healthy habits.
In addition, social factors including poverty and a lower level of education have been linked to obesity. One reason for this may be that high-calorie processed foods cost less and are easier to find and prepare than healthier foods, such as fresh vegetables and fruits. Other reasons may include inadequate access to safe recreation places or the cost of gym memberships, limiting opportunities for physical activity.
At least 2.8 million people each year die as a result of being overweight or obese. The prevalence of obesity has nearly doubled between 1980 and 2008. Once associated with high-income countries, obesity is now also prevalent in low- and middle-income countries. - The World Health Organization (WHO)
Other Causes of Obesity
Some illnesses may be confused with, lead to or are associated with weight gain or obesity:
- Hypothyroidism, a condition in which the thyroid gland fails to produce enough thyroid hormone. It often results in lowered metabolic rate and loss of vigor.
- Cushing's syndrome, a hormonal disorder caused by prolonged exposure of the body's A doctor can tell whether there are underlying medical conditions that are causing weight gain or making weight loss difficult.
- Lack of sleep may also contribute to obesity. Recent studies suggest that people with sleep problems may gain weight over time. On the other hand, obesity may contribute to sleep problems due to medical conditions such as sleep apnea, where a person briefly stops breathing at multiple times during the night.
- Certain drugs and medications, such as steroids, some antidepressants, and some medications for psychiatric conditions or seizure disorders may cause weight gain. These drugs may slow the rate at which the body burns calories, stimulate appetite, or cause the body to hold on to extra water. Be sure your doctor knows all the medications you are taking (including over-the-counter medications and dietary supplements). He or she may recommend a different medication that has less effect on weight gain. Symptoms vary, but most people have upper body obesity, rounded face, increased fat around the neck, and thinning arms and legs.
- Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), a condition characterized by high levels of androgens (male hormone), irregular or missed menstrual cycles, and in some cases, multiple small cysts in the ovaries. Cysts are fluid-filled sacs.
- Lipedema, a disorder of adipose tissue. It occurs almost exclusively in women and can occur in women of all sizes, from the underweight to the morbidly obese. Lipedema is the excess deposit of fat and fluid from the waist to a distinct line just above the ankles. Unlike normal fat cells from obesity, lipedemic fat cannot be lost through diet and exercise.
- Lymphedema, is an incurable but treatable medical condition that produces swelling caused by a blockage in the lymphatic system. The condition is caused by injury, trauma or congenital defects in the lymphatic system that causes lymphatic fluid to build in the arms and/or legs. Treatment typically involves compression garments, pumps and lymphatic massage.
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