Obesity (Excessively Overweight) Health Effects and Next Steps.

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At their most basic, the words “overweight” and “obesity” are ways to describe having too much body fat.

The most commonly used measure of weight status today is the body mass index, or BMI.

  • BMI uses a simple calculation based on the ratio of someone’s height and weight (BMI = kg/m2). Decades of research have shown that BMI provides a good estimate of “fatness” and also correlates well with important health outcomes like heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and overall mortality.

Healthy BMI Ranges for Adults and Children

What’s considered a healthy BMI?

  • For adult men and women, a BMI between 18.5 and 24.9 is considered healthy.
  • Overweight is defined as a BMI between 25.0 and 29.9; and a BMI of 30 or higher is considered obese.

As in adults, obesity is also a growing problem in children and adolescents. Because children grow at different rates, depending on their age and gender, the definitions of overweight and obesity in children and adolescents differ from those in adults.

  • In the U.S., for example, the definition is based on standard growth charts developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In children and adolescents age 2 to 20 years old, a BMI in the 85th to 94th percentiles for age and gender is considered overweight; a BMI in the 95th percentile or higher is considered obese.

Waist Size Matters: Abdominal Obesity

One important category of obesity not captured by BMI is so-called “abdominal obesity”-the extra fat found around the middle that is an important factor in health, even independent of BMI.

  • The simplest and most often used measure of abdominal obesity is waist size. Guidelines generally define abdominal obesity in women as a waist size 35 inches or higher, and in men as a waist size of 40 inches or higher.

Measuring Body Fat

There are a number of ways to measure body fat. Some are well suited to the doctor’s office, such as calculating a person’s BMI. Other, more complex methods require specialized equipment, such as magnetic resonance imaging or dual energy X-ray absorptiometry machines; while these machines can measure body fat very accurately, they are typically only used for this purpose in research settings.

Globally, there are 1.5 billion adults who are either overweight or obese, a number expected to increase to 3 billion by 2030. The epidemic is reaching catastrophic proportions, and one of the key-if small- steps to bringing it under control is to have a common language to describe the problem.

How Obesity Can Affect Your Health

Obesity can help explain some conditions you may have, such as:

  • High blood pressure
  • Heart disease and stroke
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • High cholesterol
  • Joint problems caused by extra weight / Musculoskeletal Disorders
  • Trouble breathing, including sleep apnea, in which you briefly stop breathing while you’re asleep
  • Gallstones ( in Men (40), and in Women (41), as well as Gout (42,43) )
  • Reproduction
  • Lung Function / Respiratory Disease
  • Memory and Cognitive Function
  • Mortality
  • Chronic Kidney Disease (44)
  • Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (25,35)

Small Changes Can Help

The good news is that you can take steps to lose weight. And losing even some weight can make a big difference to your health and how you feel. You may not have to lose as much as you might think in order to start seeing health benefits.

As a start, aim to lose 1-2 pounds a week. Adults who are overweight or obese should try to lose 5% to 10% of their current weight over 6 months, according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.

The Bottom Line

Obesity harms virtually every aspect of health, from shortening life and contributing to chronic conditions such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease to interfering with sexual function, breathing, mood, and social interactions. Obesity isn’t necessarily a permanent condition. Diet, Exercise, Medications and even Surgery can lead to weight loss. Yet it is much harder to lose weight than it is to gain it. Prevention of obesity, beginning at an early age and extending across a lifespan could vastly improve individual and public health, reduce suffering, and save billions of dollars each year in health care costs.

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