Obesity is a condition that is described by a high degree of body fat in a person, due to which s/he is overweight. Body weight is assessed by a variety of ways but the most commonly used method is body mass index (BMI). BMI is calculated by dividing a person’s weight (in kilograms) by height (in metres squared).
The following are the different BMI categories, as outlined by the World Health Organization (WHO):
- Normal, if BMI is between 18.5 and 25
- Overweight, if BMI lies between 25 and 29
- Obese, if BMI is between 30 and 40
- Very obese or morbidly obese, if BMI is over 40
Waist size is also used to determine obesity. Those with fat waists, or waist size 94cm or above in men and 80 cm and above in women, are at higher risk of developing health problems related to obesity.
Essentially the condition results when energy intake from food and drink is greater than the energy expenditure through physical activity and body’s metabolism over a period of time, resulting in excess body fat.
However, today obesity is a lot more than just being overweight. Many lifestyle factors combine to form the leading causes of obesity. It is important to note that obesity does not occur overnight. It is a condition that develops gradually as a result of poor lifestyle choices.
Let’s take a look at some lifestyle choices that contribute to obesity:
Food’s energy value is measured in calories. The calorie requirement of an average physically active man is 2500 calories and 2000 in case of woman. Though it might sound like a lot, poor nutritional choices can easily add up to or exceed that amount. In addition, a sedentary lifestyle allows for a major portion of calories consumed in a day to go wasted and converted to fat, which gets stored in the body.
Unhealthy food choices include:
- Keeping fast foods or processed food as major source of nutrition.
- Lack of vegetables, fruits and unrefined carbohydrates (whole wheat bread and brown rice)
- Skipping breakfast, which leads to excess intake during the day.
- Eating out often can pile up calories in form of foods like starters and desserts that are high in fat and sugar.
- Consuming alcohol in excess and frequently can lead to obesity as alcohol is rich in calories.
- Eating larger portions than what the body needs contributes to weight gain.
- Emotional eating to comfort oneself, like in situations of depression and low self-esteem can lead to eating in excess of body’s normal requirement.
Unhealthy eating habits often run in families, and children learn bad eating habits from their parents. Further, obesity in childhood is often a strong indicator of weight-related health issues in adulthood.
#2 Lack of physical activity
Staying inactive and not including exercise in one’s daily routine is an important factor related to obesity. Jobs that require people to sit at a desk for a major part of the day, relying on cars and other motorised transport rather than walking or cycling, spending free time in sedentary activities like watching TV, browsing the internet or playing computer games, and not exercising lead to physical inactivity.
If a person is not active enough, s/he does not consume the energy being provided by the food. This leads to extra calories that get stored in the body in form of fat. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends a minimum of two hours and thirty minutes (2 ½ hours) of moderate-intensity workout per week.
#3 Lack of sleep
According to WebMD.com, most adults require seven to eight hours per night for the best amount of sleep.
Getting less than seven hours of sleep can cause changes in hormones that increase appetite. This causes craving for calorie-rich foods and carbohydrates that can contribute to weight gain.
#4 Social and economic issues
Not having been exposed to healthy methods of cooking, lack of safe areas to exercise or financial crunch in buying healthier foods are also some factors that are linked to obesity. Though obesity tends to run in families, it might not just be due to genetics. Members of a family tend to have similar eating, activity and lifestyle habits, which can increase or spread the likelihood of obesity amongst them.
#5 Certain medications
Certain medications, like those for treating depression, seizures, diabetes, and psychosis can lead to weight gain if not compensated through activity or diet.
#6 Quitting smoking
Some people can gain weight, sometimes as much as several pounds a week over few months when they quit smoking. However, quitting smoking offers a greater benefit to health in the long run.
Symptoms and effects of obesity
A few extra kilograms might not cause noticeable symptoms, but accumulation of weight over time can affect daily life by causing problems like:
- Difficulty in sleeping
- Increased sweating
- Back and joint pain
- Inability to carry out normal physical activity
- Long-term problems include high blood pressure and cholesterol level, stroke and type-2 diabetes.
Obesity treatment aims to reach and maintain a healthy weight. A team of health professionals that include a dietician, nutritionist, therapist and obesity specialist work with the patient to make changes in diet and activity habits.
- Dietary changes – Reducing calorie intake and adopting a low-calorie diet and adopting a healthy eating plan are crucial to overcoming obesity.
- Exercise and physical activity – This is essential to not only lose extra weight but also maintain the healthy weight once achieved.
- Medication – Certain situations (like BMI over 30, or medical complications like diabetes) might require prescription weight-loss medication.
- Surgery – Also known as bariatric surgery, weight loss surgery is usually a last resort to treating obesity.
- Prevention – The best way to prevent becoming obese is by eating a healthy diet and including exercise in one’s daily routine.
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