What is Obesity?

The Obesity Epidemic

What is Obesity?

Obesity is a life threatening disease and is now considered the leading cause of preventable death in the United States. The rates of obesity have increased over the past 25 years and currently the statistics show that over 72 million individuals in the United States are overweight or obese (severely overweight). When an individual’s weight increases to an extreme level, it is called morbid obesity.

Causes of Obesity

Obesity is not a cosmetic flaw or a social condition. It is a complex, chronic disease.

Many things may contribute to this condition, such as:

  • Energy balance – your body may take too much energy (calories) from food – more than what your body needs may lead to weight gain. This is dependent upon your level of activity and metabolism.
  • Heredity – you have a higher risk of obesity if it is genetic.
  • Metabolic disorders – if your body’s metabolism changes, it may affect your energy balance and weight.
  • Eating and social habits – An unbalanced diet, snacking between meals and too little exercise may lead to obesity.
  • Psychological factors – Social and emotional eating are among the main causes of excessive weight gain.

Any one or a combination of these factors may lead to obesity. Inherited conditions may be difficult to improve without medical intervention, but you have the power to change your behavior patterns and improve your own health and well-being.

Health Risks Associated with Obesity

Obesity and obesity related health conditions are associated with more than 400,000 preventable deaths each year in the United States. In fact, obesity is more harmful to your health than smoking and alcohol abuse. In addition, obesity is a major risk factor for serious medical conditions (comorbidities), such as:

  • Type II diabetes
  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Cancer
  • Joint problems

The good news is that by losing weight, you can improve, prevent, or lower your risk for these weight-related health conditions.

The Costs of Obesity

The national cost of treating the disease of obesity is extremely high. Based on a 2006 study, the annual cost associated with the treatment of obesity related medical conditions falls between $147 to $210 billion dollars. This expense is to the healthcare consumer as well as the insurance companies.

The personal cost of living for individuals managing obesity and obesity related health conditions may be much higher than those who are of a normal weight. Consider what you spend on the following items:

  • Out of pocket healthcare expenses
  • Over-the-counter medication costs
  • Co-pays for doctor office visits
  • Co-pays for lab work
  • Co-pays for specialists
  • Co-pays for physical therapists/allied health professionals
  • Prescription co-pays
  • Employment inactivity costs (days of missed work)
  • Non-surgical weight loss programs (such as Weight Watchers® or Jenny Craig®)
  • Grocery and dining costs

These expenditures quickly add up. You may find that long term, significant weight loss may greatly reduce your medical and lifestyle costs.

While millions of severely overweight Americans try diet, fitness and medication programs to treat obesity, unfortunately for most, these efforts usually offer only short-term results. Medical studies show that if you are obese, you are not likely to achieve significant long-term weight loss through diet and behavior changes alone.

Common Approaches to Dealing with Obesity

The most common approach to weight loss is eating less, following a more balanced diet, and increasing  physical activity. A weight loss program, monitored by your doctor, should always be your first weight loss option. However, here are some important facts to consider:

  • Studies show that obese patients on diets, exercise programs, or weight loss medications lose approximately 10% of their body weight, but tend to regain two-thirds within one year, and most of the weight within five years.
  • This is called ‘yo-yo dieting’, which can make it harder to lose weight in the future.
  • Obese patients should strongly consider weight loss surgery when other methods have failed.
  • Significant long-term weight loss through surgery can improve overall wellness, improve obesity-related health conditions, and greatly enhance everyday life.




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