Obesity is more than a number; it’s also a predictor of illness

Obesity is more than a numberMore than a third of adults in the U.S. are defined as clinically obese, and according to projections from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), that number is expected to exceed 50 percent by the year 2030. Everyone has their own comfort level when it comes to body weight, but one thing is inescapable: If you’re obese, you face far more serious health risks than you would at a healthy weight.

What is obesity?

In the medical community, obesity is the weight where medical studies have shown people are at significantly higher risk for serious medical conditions. For most adults, obesity is determined by the body mass index (BMI), the ratio between height and weight. For medical purposes, an adult with a BMI of more than 30 is considered to be obese.

The BMI is determined by taking your weight in kilograms and dividing by your height in meters, then taking that number and dividing it again by your height in meters. As an example, a person who is 5’9” and weighs 203 pounds would have a BMI of 30, the cutoff for the definition of clinical obesity.

While BMI is useful for most adults, there is an exception: The BMIs for muscular athletes may exceed the level for obesity simply because muscle tissue weighs more than fat. When BMI must be calculated for an athlete, other techniques can be used, including measuring waist circumference and skinfold thickness (“pinching an inch”) and even ultrasound or other diagnostic imaging.

When determining your own risk for obesity-related diseases, the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute recommends your BMI be considered along with your family history of diseases and your waist circumference, since studies have shown a high level of abdominal fat can be an accurate predictor for many obesity-related medical conditions.

Health effects of obesity

Obesity causes a wide array of health effects affecting just about every major system in your body. Here are a few of the serious health risks you can face if you’re obese:

  • Heart disease
  • Heart attack
  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Stroke
  • Cancer
  • Diabetes
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Respiratory problems
  • Gallstones
  • Sleep apnea
  • High cholesterol
  • Getting healthy by losing weight

Just as multiple studies have shown obesity is bad for your health, many other studies have demonstrated the significant advantages of maintaining a healthy weight. And while many researchers tout diet and exercise as the ideal path to getting healthy, once you become obese, physiological changes in your body can make it very difficult to take that weight off on your own.

In recent years, bariatric surgery has emerged as a way to help people lose weight so they can decrease their risks for obesity-related disease. If you’re obese and diet and exercise haven’t worked, talk to a doctor about medical weight loss and how it could help you on the road to getting healthy.

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