Obesity has become a global epidemic, with rates doubling since 1980. Being overweight or obese increases the risk for multiple health problems like heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and joint issues. By understanding obesity, and its related illnesses, and making lifestyle changes, we can work towards a healthier weight and improved wellbeing.
What is Obesity and What Causes It?
Obesity occurs when an individual has excessive body fat that poses a risk to their health. It is a complex chronic disease involving environmental, genetic, physiologic, metabolic, behavioural and cultural factors.
A person is considered obese when their body mass index (BMI) is over 30 kg/m2. BMI between 25-30 kg/m2 is classified as overweight. BMI is calculated using height and weight.
Obesity usually results from consuming more calories through food and drink than the body burns through activity over an extended time. The excess calories are then stored as fat, leading to weight gain.
Some other factors that contribute to obesity include:
- Genetics - People may inherit susceptibilities from their parents.
- Environment - Easy access to high-calorie processed foods and sedentary lifestyles promote weight gain.
- Diseases - Conditions like hypothyroidism or Cushing's syndrome slow metabolism leading to obesity.
- Medications - Drugs like steroids, and antidepressants may increase weight.
- Psychological factors - Conditions like depression, stress, emotional trauma, and low self-esteem.
- Lack of sleep - Inadequate sleep impacts hormone regulation that signals hunger and fullness.
While losing weight can be challenging, obesity is largely preventable through dietary and lifestyle changes.
Diseases and Health Risks Associated With Obesity
Being obese or overweight puts individuals at higher risk for developing multiple serious diseases and health conditions, including:
- Heart Disease and Stroke: Excess weight strains the heart causing it to pump harder leading to high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and other cardiovascular problems.
- Type 2 Diabetes: Insulin resistance is impaired when cells stop responding properly to insulin, the hormone that regulates blood sugar. This results in high blood glucose levels characteristic of type 2 diabetes.
- Cancer: Excess body fat has been linked to increased risks for cancers of the colon, oesophagus, pancreas, breast, uterus, kidney and gallbladder.
- Metabolic Syndrome: Refers to a cluster of conditions like excess body fat around the waist, high blood pressure, low HDL cholesterol, and high blood sugar that increase the risk of heart disease.
- Joint Problems: Extra weight puts pressure on the joints especially knees, hips and lower back leading to pain and osteoarthritis over time.
- Sleep Apnea and Breathing Issues: Fat deposits around the neck and throat cause the airways to narrow resulting in sleep apnea, improper oxygen circulation and other issues.
- Liver and Gallbladder Disease: Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease and gallstones become more common with increasing body weight.
4 Ways You Can Work Towards a Healthy Weight
Small changes to your daily routine can make a big difference in achieving and maintaining a healthy body weight. Here are some tips:
- Follow a Balanced, Calorie Diet: Focus on plant foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean protein. Avoid added sugars, saturated fats, processed and junk food. Drink plenty of water. This creates a calorie deficit for gradual weight loss.
- Increase Physical Activity: Aim for 150 minutes of moderate activity like brisk walking per week along with some strength training. Moving more boosts metabolism and burns calories.
- Prioritize Sleep: Aim for 7-8 hours of sleep per night. Lack of sleep disrupts hunger-regulating hormones causing cravings for sugary and fatty foods.
- Manage Stress: Chronic stress leads to elevated cortisol levels which trigger cravings for comfort foods. Practice relaxation techniques like yoga, meditation and deep breathing. Seek counselling if needed.
What are the common symptoms of obesity?
Common symptoms include shortness of breath, excessive sweating, difficulty sleeping, joint pain, rashes, and depression among others.
How is obesity diagnosed?
Obesity is diagnosed by calculating body mass index (BMI) using a person's weight and height. A BMI of 30 kg/m2 or higher indicates obesity.
What blood tests help evaluate obesity?
Tests like lipid profile, liver function tests, fasting blood glucose, HbA1c, CRP and thyroid tests help assess obesity-related risks and conditions.
What medical tests are done for obesity?
Apart from blood tests, medical tests like ECG, heart function tests, ultrasounds, x-rays and body composition tests are done to evaluate complications of obesity.
How to Prevent Obesity From a Young Age?
- Establish Healthy Eating Habits: Provide children home-cooked minimally processed foods with plenty of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. Avoid sugary drinks and excessive snacking.
- Limit Screen Time: Restrict television, mobile, and video game time to no more than 2 hours per day. Encourage outdoor play and social activities.
- Ensure Adequate Sleep: Aim for 9-12 hours of sleep for kids and 8-10 hours for teens. Lack of sleep can disrupt appetite-regulating hormones.
- Be a Role Model: As parents and caretakers, model healthy eating and exercise. Doing activities together as a family sets good habits.
- Seek Help: If concerned about weight or eating patterns, consult a paediatrician or dietitian early for guidance on healthy nutrition and weight management.
No one chooses to be obese. Making step-by-step nutritional and lifestyle changes tailored to your needs can help achieve long-term weight management and reduce associated health risks. Seek support from healthcare providers to monitor your health on this journey. Stay motivated knowing that small consistent changes compound over time for big results.
When to See a Doctor About Obesity?
Consult a doctor or medical professional if:
- Your BMI is over 30 (or is approaching obesity levels)
- You have experienced significant weight gain that does not respond to lifestyle efforts
- You have obesity-related health issues like hypertension, high blood sugar, sleep apnea etc.
- Your obesity is impacting daily activities and quality of life
- You need guidance on weight loss medications or bariatric surgery options
- You need support for emotional issues, and depression associated with obesity
Doctors can do a complete health evaluation, assess your risks, provide nutrition advice, prescribe medications if needed, and come up with a personalized weight loss plan for you. Seeking timely medical care is important.
Top 5 Myths and Facts About Obesity
- Obesity is a lifestyle choice or due to lack of willpower: Obesity is a chronic disease influenced by multiple genetic, hormonal, environmental and psychological factors. It requires medical treatment.
- You can spot and reduce fat from specific body parts: It's not possible to lose fat from targeted areas alone. Overall healthy eating and exercise are needed.
- Crash dieting is effective for weight loss: Crash diets that severely restrict calories cause short-term weight loss but result in rebound weight gain. Gradual calorie deficit is better.
- BMI is inaccurate for some people like athletes: BMI correlates accurately with obesity levels for most people. Those with higher muscle mass can get their body fat percentage tested.
- Medications and surgery are risky shortcuts: When combined with lifestyle changes, these options can be safe and effective under medical guidance.
Healthy Weight Loss Tips
- Set realistic goals - Losing 1-2 pounds per week is reasonable
- Add more protein - It's satiating and helps retain muscle mass
- Lift weights - Building muscle boosts metabolism to burn fat
- Eat plenty of fibre - High-fiber foods fill you up with fewer calories
- Drink green tea - It contains compounds that enhance fat-burning
- Monitor portions - Use smaller plates, weigh and measure servings
- Track calories - Apps make it easy to log foods and calories
- Prioritize sleep - Adequate sleep aids weight control
- Manage stress - Chronic stress leads to weight gain
- Stay accountable - Share your efforts with a friend or nutritionist
Laboratory tests for obesity
Here are some of the key laboratory tests that can help evaluate and manage obesity:
- Lipid profile - Measures total cholesterol, LDL, HDL and triglycerides to assess heart disease risk.
- Liver function tests - Elevated liver enzymes may indicate fatty liver disease. Tests include ALT, AST, ALP and bilirubin.
- Fasting blood glucose OR HbA1c - Tests for prediabetes or diabetes which commonly accompany obesity.
- Thyroid tests - TSH, T3 and T4 levels are tested to rule out thyroid disorders.
- C-reactive protein (CRP) - CRP levels indicate inflammation and cardiac risk.
- Insulin - To check for insulin resistance and impaired glucose tolerance.
- Vitamin D - Obesity is linked to low vitamin D which can impact bone health.
- Complete blood count (CBC) - CBC evaluates anemia, infection and other obesity-related issues.
- Iron studies - To check for iron deficiency which may impair thyroid function.
- Cortisol - To rule out Cushing's syndrome which can drive weight gain.
- Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) tests - PCOS is associated with obesity in women.
- Uric acid - High levels increase gout risk which is elevated in obese individuals.
- Obesity profile test
These laboratory investigations help diagnose accompanying illnesses, monitor overall health status, and provide vital insights into appropriate treatment options for optimal weight management.
Obesity is rising across the globe, leading to higher incidences of chronic illnesses like diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. Making stepwise nutritional and lifestyle changes tailored to your needs can help achieve enduring weight management and improved health. Consult a doctor to make a comprehensive plan to control obesity and associated risks. With consistency and commitment over time, a healthier weight and well-being is certainly within your reach.
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