Weight Control and Obesity
What is weight control?
Weight control is a term used to discuss managing and maintaining a healthy body weight. Having a healthy body weight can mean different things for different people. The traditional way this weight is calculated is with the body mass index (BMI). Your BMI uses your height and weight to figure out your ideal weight range. This number can vary, but typically, you are considered obese if your BMI is over 30.
Your waist line can also be a sign of obesity. For a woman, a healthy waist measurement should fall below 35 inches. For a man, it should be less than 40 inches. This measurement is called your waist circumference.
When talking about waist circumference, it’s also good to discuss body shapes. People have all different body shapes. Some are an hourglass, with shoulders and hips around the same size but a smaller waist. Some are pear-shaped, with smaller measurements on the top and larger on the bottom. If you have an apple-shape — also nicknamed ‘potbelly,’ ‘spare tire’ or ‘muffin-top’ — you carry more fat in and around your abdominal organs. Having this extra fat in your abdomen can increase your risk of many serious medical conditions that are linked to obesity.
What’s the difference between being overweight and being obese?
Both terms mean that you have excess body fat, but they are two different levels of a similar thing. Being overweight means that you have some extra fat. Although you are higher than your goal weight, you don’t have as much body fat as the next level — obesity. When you have high levels of body fat, it’s considered obesity.This is typically determined by your primary care physician during an appointment. Talk to your physician about the differences between being overweight and obese and what that means for your body type.
Why does obesity happen?
Obesity happens when your calorie intake is higher than the amount of energy you burn off each day. Think of the food you eat as fuel. This fuel is meant to power you and as you move throughout your day, you burn off this fuel. However, if you take in too much fuel, it isn’t burned off. This just sits in your body, not serving its purpose.
There can be many reasons why weight gain happens, and often it’s more than one reason at a time. Some of the factors that can add to weight control issues include:
- Environmental factors: Lifestyle behaviors, like what you eat and how active you are on an average day, can impact your weight.
- Psychological factors: Eating can be linked to your emotions. We eat to celebrate something good and we eat to grieve something sad. The emotional side of food can lead to things like eating due to depression, anxiety, boredom and binge eating. Binge eating is when you eat a large amount of food at one time, while often feeling out of control of how much you eat.
- Genetic and Environmental factors: Obesity can run in your family. This means that if you have family members who are overweight or obese, you might have an increased risk. It’s unclear if this is from your genetic code, or lifestyle behaviors (diet and exercise) that are passed down through generations. However, many people with family members who are overweight are not themselves overweight.
- Medical conditions: Sometimes, a medical condition or medication can actually lower your metabolism (ability to burn calories into energy), which can cause obesity. Medications like steroids and antidepressants can cause weight gain. Medical conditions can include:
Can being overweight lead to medical problems in the future?
Your weight can play a large role in your health over time. Being overweight is linked to several health problems, including:
- Heart disease and stroke.
- High blood pressure (hypertension).
- Certain cancers.
- Gallbladder issues and gallstones.
- Breathing problems, such as sleep apnea (when you stop breathing for a short amount of time during sleep).
Generally, the more obese a person is, the higher the risk of developing a medical condition. A person who is 40% overweight is twice as likely to die prematurely as an average-weight person. This typically happens over a number of years with a higher weight (10 to 30 years). Losing the weight can really benefit your health, both now and in the long term.
Many physicians who specialize in obesity believe that people who are less than 20% above their healthy weight should try to lose weight if they have any of the following risk factors:
- A family history of certain chronic diseases: These can include conditions like heart disease and diabetes.
- A pre-existing medical condition: Health conditions like high blood pressure (hypertension), high cholesterol and high blood sugar levels are all warning signs of some obesity-associated diseases.
- Having a body shape that’s considered apple-shaped: If you carry excess weight around your abdomen, you could be at a higher risk of developing heart disease, diabetes or cancer than people of the same weight who are pear-shaped.
The good news is that even a modest weight loss of 10 to 20 pounds can bring significant health improvements, including lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels.