Obesity is defined as an excess proportion of total body fat. Speak with your doctor if you are concerned about your weight and if you are attempting weight loss. You should call your doctor if you need help in losing weight or if you fall into either of these categories:
Yes. Being overweight is linked to a number of health problems, including:
Someone who is 40% overweight is twice as likely to die prematurely as an average-weight person. (This effect is seen after 10 to 30 years of being obese.)
Doctors generally agree that the more obese a person is, the more likely it is that he or she will have health problems. People who are 20% or more overweight can gain significant health benefits from weight loss. Many obesity experts 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.
Fortunately, even a modest weight loss of 10 to 20 pounds can bring significant health improvements, such as lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
In scientific terms, obesity occurs when a person's calorie intake exceeds the amount of energy he or she burns. What causes this imbalance between consuming and burning calories is unclear. Evidence suggests that obesity often has more than one cause. Environmental, psychological, genetic, and other factors all may play a part.
Environmental factors: A person's environment plays a significant role in weight status. Environment includes lifestyle behaviors, such as what a person eats and how active he or she is. Americans tend to have high-fat diets, often putting taste and convenience ahead of nutritional content when choosing meals. People can change what they eat and how active they are as a means of changing their weight status.
Psychological factors: Psychological factors also may influence eating habits. Many people eat in response to negative emotions such as boredom, sadness, or anger.
About 30% of those who seek treatment for serious weight problems have difficulties with binge eating. During a binge eating episode, people eat large amounts of food while feeling they can't control how much they are eating. Those with the most severe binge eating problems are considered to have what is called binge eating disorder. These people may have more difficulty losing weight and keeping the weight off than people without binge eating problems. Some will need special help, such as counseling or medication, to control their binge eating before they can successfully manage their weight.
Genetic factors: Obesity tends to run in families, suggesting that it may have a genetic cause. However, family members share not only genes but also diet and lifestyle habits that may contribute to obesity. Separating these lifestyle factors from genetic ones is often difficult. Still, growing evidence points to heredity as a strong determining factor of obesity. In one study of adults who were adopted as children, researchers found that their subjects' adult weights were closer to their biological parents' weights than their adoptive parents'. The environment provided by the adoptive family apparently had less influence on the development of obesity than the person's genetic makeup. However, many people genetically predisposed to obesity do not become obese or are able to lose weight and keep it off.
Other causes of obesity: Some illnesses can lower the metabolism or trigger an increased appetite which can cause obesity. These include hypothyroidism, Cushing's syndrome, depression, and certain neurologic problems. Certain drugs, such as steroids and some antidepressants, may cause excessive weight gain through the same methods. A doctor can determine if a patient has any of these conditions, which are believed to be responsible for only about 1% of all cases of obesity.
The treatment of obesity needs to be long-term; it cannot be short-term. Weight loss should be gradual, and careful follow-up is necessary to prevent rebound weight gain. Changing behavior and lifestyle are the only ways to change a person's weight permanently. These changes focus on gradual and permanent changes in eating and exercise habits. There are six ways you can change your behavior and lifestyle that will help you maintain weight loss:
The keys to weight management include making lifestyle changes, such as increasing exercise and activity and changing dietary habits.
Prescription drugs are another approach to treating obesity. Drug therapy may help the patient learn and adapt to a healthier lifestyle. It should be used along with a program of diet and exercise and should help you follow your overall treatment plan.
The anti-obesity medications that are currently available work mainly by suppressing the appetite. They raise specific hormones such as noradrenalin or serotonin in the nervous system, creating a feeling of fullness. These medications will not work, however, unless you also make changes in your diet and lifestyle.
The level of success with anti-obesity drugs is rather modest. Studies show a mean weight loss of six to 10 pounds total and about one-half pound a week greater weight loss than with a placebo (for 12 weeks or less of treatment). Some individuals respond very well while others may not respond at all.
A weight loss medication is not a cure-all. The use of weight loss medications should be combined with physical activity and improved diet to lose and maintain weight successfully over the long term.
Weight loss medications can be considered for:
Currently, most available weight-loss medications approved by the FDA are for short-term use, meaning a few weeks or months.
Another treatment option may be surgery. Surgery should only be considered after all other attempts to lose weight have been unsuccessful, or if a person has an obesity-related disease. Surgery should only be done at centers committed to long-term follow-up and as an addition to diet, exercise, and behavior modification programs. Currently, candidates for these surgeries have to be:
Surgical procedures have had the most long-term success, but it is important to consider the reasons for success or failure of previous weight-loss attempts as well as the risks and benefits of the surgery.
Studies show that even the most inactive people can gain significant health benefits if they accumulate just 30 minutes or more of physical activity per day.
For the greatest overall health benefits, experts suggest 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise three or more times per week, plus some form of anaerobic exercise, such as muscle-strengthening activity and stretching twice a week.
If you have been inactive for a while, you may want to start with less strenuous activities, such as walking or swimming at a comfortable pace. Beginning at a slow pace will allow you to become physically fit without straining your body. Once you are in better shape, you can gradually do more strenuous activity.
Keep the following tips in mind.
Fad diets typically do not support long-lasting weight loss results. Avoid fad diets, and focus instead of portion control, cutting down on empty calories like sweets and sugary drinks, and increasing exercise. While there is no set approach to identifying a fad diet, many have the following characteristics:
© Copyright 1995-2018 The Cleveland Clinic Foundation. All rights reserved.
This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or healthcare provider. Please consult your healthcare provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 04/13/2016