What Is Obesity?
Obesity is defined as body fat, usually 20% or more, that goes beyond what your ideal weight should be according to your age and height. Often the result is significant damage to one’s health. According to the World Health Organization obesity is now a global pandemic. Our countries weight is increasing at such a fast rate that there should be cause for concern. “If obesity is left unchecked, almost all of America will be overweight within a few generations.” (Muscular Development Sports and Fitness Magazine).
Statistics of Obesity
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention has reported that over 60% (nearly 55 million people) of the adult American population and roughly 15% of our children and adolescents are overweight. 40 million people are obese and 3 million are considered morbidly obese. Worldwide, the prevalence of obesity is over 300 million people according to a World Health Report in 2007.
The mortality rate for obesity continues to incline every year. The Center for Disease Control, states that nearly 300,000 deaths reported each year are associated with obesity. This comes out to approximately 25,000 death per month, 5760 deaths per week, and 820 deaths per day.
The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) has reported that nearly $33 billion is spent each year, by consumers, on weight loss products. Another $63 million is spent on doctor’s visits for issues related to weight gain and obesity. Days of work that are lost because of this are at an all-time high of 39.3 million days of work missed.
What Are the Causes of Obesity?
Being severely overweight is not caused by one single feature; there are a number of things that contribute to obesity. Some factors contributing to obesity include genetics, gender and age, medical problems, emotional and psychological issues, physical inactivity, and a high-fat or high-calorie diet. Obesity ensues when body fat accumulates over a period of time as a consequence of a chronic energy imbalance. This means that the amount of calories consumed exceeds the amount of calories used up.
Genes play an important role in how your body metabolizes calories. Scientists have now identified several genes that may play a role in the obesity epidemic. Children whose parents are obese have a 25% – 30% chance of inheriting these genes and becoming obese at some point in their lives as well. Inheriting these genes does not necessarily mean that you will become obese but that you are more susceptible to weight gain. Having this knowledge we can learn to make lifestyle changes in order to prevent ourselves from becoming a part of this epidemic.
Men have more muscle and also a higher metabolic rate, while resting, than women do and burn 10% – 20% more calories. In order to maintain their ideal weight men require more calories than women. Also a woman’s metabolic rate decreases when she becomes post-menopausal. Because of this women are more likely to become obese than men are.
As you age the amount of muscle in your body decreases. Muscles use more energy than fat and this decrease in muscle mass leads to a decrease in metabolism. So as you age your metabolism slows down and your need for calories is lowered. If you continue to eat the way you always have, your tendency to gain weight will increase. Someone who is 20-years old is also going to be more active than someone who is 50-years old. As people get older and their activity level changes their weight will also fluctuate accordingly.
It has been thought that a metabolic disorder, such as an under active thyroid (hypothyroidism), could lead to obesity. Only about 2% of all cases of obesity involve an endocrine, metabolic, or hormonal imbalance. An under active thyroid can lead to some weight gain but usually only about 5 – 10 pounds. There are some antidepressants and anti-psychotic medications that may play a factor in mild weight gain. Science has also shown that there are some rare brain diseases that are known to contribute to obesity.
Emotional and Psychological Issues
Food is something that we use when we are looking for comfort and peace and also when we are celebrating a happy time in our life. Some people use food as a tool to find happiness and some use it to stop unwanted feelings and emotions. It is a common belief that people overeat because of emotions such as depression, anger, loneliness, sadness, guilt, worry, boredom, hopelessness, and a sense of insecurity. On the other hand food is also used to celebrate special occasions by going out to dinner or hosting a party. Feelings, whether they are of a positive nature or a negative nature, can affect our eating patterns. In obesity cases, where emotional or psychological factors are a contributing cause, psychological intervention can be of use. Approximately 25% of those who seek help for their weight issues have problems with binge eating.
People who are overweight are normally less active than those who are at their ideal weight. Obesity can make it difficult for a person to move around, causing pain in the knees and ankles. Those who are overweight may also suffer from shortness-of-breath, making one feel tired very easily. Because of these two factors it is difficult for someone who is already overweight to exercise. When we eat more calories we are required to burn more calories in order to maintain our ideal weight. Reduced energy expenditure is a major contributing factor of obesity.
Levy, Lance. Understanding Obesity: The Five Medical Causes. Tonawanda, NY: Firefly Books; 1 Edition, 2000.
J. Ribeiro et al. Overweight and obesity in children and adolescents: relationship with blood pressure, and physical activity. Annals of Human Biology 30 (2): 203-213, 2003.
Wadden, Thomas A. Handbook of Obesity Treatment. New York, NY: The Guilford Press; Updated Edition, 2004.
Gard, Michael, and Jan Wright. The ObesityEpidemic: Science, Morality and Ideology. Florence, KY: Routledge; New Edition, 2005.
The Mayo Clinic: Medical Education and Research
The Obesity Society
Center for Disease Control and Prevention