Understanding Obesity

What is obesity?

Obesity is a serious health condition where there is deposition of excess body fat. Apart from being a cosmetic concern, obesity may lead to serious health problems affecting different vital functions. It is one of the most common preventable causes of death worldwide. In the past, obesity was widely recognized as symbol of wealth but these days it has almost become a social stigma.

According to the medical term, obesity is classified under different classes from class I to class III depending upon the BMI (body mass index) which is measured as the ratio between weight and height in meter square. People with  BMI between 25.0-29.9 are considered as overweight, between 30.0 to 34.9 means class I obesity, 35 to 39.9 means class II and BMI ≥ 40.0 signifies class III obesity (morbid obesity). These days another term has also been includes – super obesity for people with a BMI greater than 50.

What causes obesity?

There are a number of causes of obesity but it primarily revolves around :

  • Sedentary lifestyle.
  • Unhealthy eating patterns such as high calorie, high fat meals.

Other factors that contribute to obesity includes :

  • Intake of anti-seizure drugs, antidepressants and antidiabetes medication.
  • Certain medical conditions like Prader-Willi syndrome, Cushing syndrome and hypothyroidsm.

What are the dangers of obesity?

Obesity may lead to a number of serious health conditions like :

  • Raised cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
  • Type 2 diabetes.
  • High blood pressure.
  • Increased chance of fat deposits (atherosclerosis) on the inner walls of the blood vessels leading to reduction of blood flow across the arteries. Reduced blood supply to various organs leads to number of health problems like :
    – Impaired blood flow to the heart leads to chest pain on exertion (angina) which usually relieves upon resting but in some cases prolonged disruption of blood supply leads to death of the heart tissue (heart attack). Heart attack may kill the patient or leads to impaired cardiac activity like rhythm disturbances or heart failure.
    – Atherosclerosis may lead to brain stroke either due to reduced or stoppage of blood supply to the brain tissue or due to rupture of atherosclerotic plaque and subsequent blockage of blood flow through the already narrowed arteries.
    – Reduced blood supply to other body parts like the lower limbs leads to cramping pain, tingling or numbness.
  • Increased risk of snoring and sleep apnea characterized by sudden awakening in the middle of the night following sudden stoppage of respiration.
  • Psychological problem like frustration, depression, social isolation and lack of self esteem.
  • Increased tendency of suffering from joint pain, swelling and joint destruction due to osteoarthritis. Commonly the knee joints are affected because of increased weight.
  • Infertility, irregular menstruation or erectile dysfunction.
  • Increased risk of gallstones and fatty liver diseases.
  • Poor wound healing.

How is obesity treated?

The treatment of obesity is a multi-pronged approach. This includes :

  • Dietary changes primarily focuses on minimizing portion sizes, maintaining a specified daily calorie intake and consuming only low-fat, low-calorie and low glycemic index (GI) foods.
  • Increased daily physical activities along with a regular exercise program.
  • Behavior therapy to address the mental stress in obese patients.
  • Intake of certain prescription anti obesity drugs like orlistat, lorcaserin and phentermine in cases when the above mentioned approaches have failed.
  • Weight loss surgery is done in patients with morbid obesity. Common surgical techniques are gastric bypass surgery, gastric sleeves and gastric banding.

Once the optimal body weight is reached, it is important that ongoing measures are undertaken to maintain this weight.


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