Definition and Overview

Obesity is a medical term that refers to too much body fat. Body fat is measured using the Body Mass Index (BMI). It calculates fat levels in relation to a person’s weight and height. A healthy BMI for adults is between 18.50 and 24.90. A BMI of 25 to 29.90 is considered overweight. A person is obese if his or her BMI is at least 30.

Too much body fat increases health risks. It is linked to high blood pressure and heart disease as well as diabetes.

The condition is a global problem. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), there were 600 million obese adults and 41 million obese children in 2014 worldwide. These numbers are expected to go up because billions of people around the world are overweight.

The only treatment for obesity is weight loss. In many cases, eating a healthy, well-balanced diet and being more active are enough to make this happen. However, in severe cases, weight loss medications or surgery may be needed.

Causes of Condition

People can become obese due to:

  • Overeating - People these days are more likely to eat more than they should. This could be because of easy access to food. Back in the days, people have to shop at the market and cook in order for them to eat or feed their families. Today, fast food restaurants are everywhere. This allows people to eat whenever they want, even when they are not hungry.

  • Inactivity - People who overeat and do not move around are more likely to put on more weight. The calories that they do not use are stored by their body as fat.

  • Ageing - People may find it more difficult to keep off excess weight as they get older. This is due to hormonal changes and decreased metabolism.

  • Sleep problems - Studies have shown that not getting enough sleep increases a person’s appetite. The same is true for those who oversleep.

  • Pregnancy - Most women put on weight when they get pregnant. However, some have difficulty losing the excess weight after giving birth.

  • Quitting smoking - Smoking cigarettes and tobacco suppresses appetite. Smokers who quit find themselves always craving for food.

Key Symptoms

Aside from a BMI of at least 30, other signs of obesity are:

  • Visceral fat - Obese people have more fat in their midsection than other parts of their body.

  • Sexual problems - Many people with the condition admit to not enjoying sex. The condition also makes it more difficult for women to get pregnant.

  • Depression - Studies have found that many obese adults and children are bullied and teased because of their weight and appearance. This can lead to depression.

Obese people are also prone to illnesses and diseases. They have an increased risk of stroke, heart disease, and breathing disorders.

The good news is, these risks can be reduced through weight loss.

Who to See and Types of Treatments Available

Obese people can see their doctors for assessment. Doctors start by discussing their medical history and lifestyle. They also do a physical exam in which a person’s BMI is calculated, and waist circumference is measured. Blood tests are also used to see if the patient has certain disorders, syndromes, or metabolic problems.

Treatment of obesity depends on its cause and severity. Possible treatments are:

  • A healthy diet and exercise - Patients can work with a nutrition specialist to help them cut down their calorie intake the healthy way. Dietitians can make meal plans that can power up the body with nutrients while helping patients lose weight at the same time. Better results can be expected with regular exercise. It is best to start with low-intensity exercises. Brisk walking for 30 to 60 minutes a day is a good start. Swimming, water aerobics, and yoga are also great options. Patients should also do light weight bearing exercises if they can.

  • Treatment of underlying medical condition.

  • Counseling - This works for patients who overeat due to emotional problems. Counsellors can help them recognise their eating triggers and teach them ways to cope with unhealthy food cravings.

  • Weight loss drugs - Patients can use drugs approved by the US Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) to reduce or suppress their appetite.

  • Weight loss treatment programs - Long-term weight management programmes are widely available in many parts of the world. They are designed to encourage overweight and obese individuals to lose weight the healthy way.

  • Weight loss surgery - In severe cases, weight loss surgery may be needed. This could be the case if the patient:

1.) Fails to lose weight despite eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly.

2.) Has a BMI of at least 40.

3.) Has serious weight-related diseases.

Surgery limits the amount of food that a person can eat. Certain methods involve removing a part of the stomach. Surgery for weight loss is very effective. In many cases, it saves patients’ lives.


  • Papadakis MA, et al. Nutritional disorders. In: Current Medical Diagnosis & Treatment 2014. 53rd ed. New York, N.Y.: The McGraw-Hill Companies; 2014.

  • Moyer VA, et al. Screening for and management of obesity in adults: U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommendation statement. Annals of Internal Medicine. 2012;157:373.

  • Nelson DW, et al. Analysis of obesity-related outcomes and bariatric failure rates with the duodenal switch vs. gastric bypass for morbid obesity. Archives of Surgery. 2012;147:847.

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