Obesity and Overweight

Obesity is a major risk factor for heart disease. This is alarming when you consider that 1 out of every 3 Americans is obese and 1 out of every 3 children (ages 2-19) is overweight or obese. Recent studies have shown that obesity is linked to over 180,000 deaths in the United States each year.

What is obesity?

Our bodies are made up of water, fat, protein, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals. Obesity means that you have too much body fat.

The size of your waistline is one way to estimate body fat. A high-risk waistline is more than 35 inches for women and more than 40 inches for men. Another way to measure obesity is body mass index (BMI), which is a formula of weight in kilograms divided by height in meters squared (BMI =kg/m2). You can find out your BMI by using the calculator below. Then, take that value and find your body composition in the table below the calculator.

Calculate your BMI by entering your height & weight.

in inches:
in pounds:
in centimeters:
in kilograms:
Your result:
Body Composition Body Mass Index (BMI)
Underweight Less than 18.5
Normal 18.5 – 24.9
Overweight 25.0 – 29.9
Obese Greater than 30.0

What causes obesity?

For some people, the cause of obesity is quite simple: they are eating more calories than they are burning during exercise and daily life. Other causes of obesity may include

  • Genetics. Obesity tends to run in families. Some researchers believe that a gene passed down through family members may have some impact on how we regulate our body weight.
  • Aging. As you get older, your body cannot burn energy as quickly, and you do not need as many calories to maintain your weight. This is why people who eat the same way and do the same activities as they did when they were 20 find that they gain weight at 40.
  • Gender. Men burn more energy at rest than women do, so men need more calories to maintain their body weight. Women usually gain weight after menopause because their ability to burn energy decreases even more.
  • Environment and eating habits. Fast-food restaurants and high-fat, high-sugar junk foods have become a main part of the American diet.
  • Lack of physical activity. People who eat a lot but do not exercise are more likely to be obese.
  • Pregnancy. Although most women only weigh a few pounds more a year after giving birth, 15% of pregnant women add 20 pounds with each pregnancy.
  • Childhood obesity. Children who are obese are more likely to be obese as adults. Researchers believe that the fat cells we gain as children stay with us as adults. Obese children may have 5 times more fat cells than children of normal weight. Dieting in adulthood will decrease the fat-cell size but not the actual number of fat cells.
  • Illness. Some illnesses can cause obesity. These include hormone problems such as an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism), depression, and some rare diseases of the brain.
  • Medicines. Steroids and some antidepressants may cause weight gain.
  • Eating disorders. Binge eating and night-eating disorders account for as many as 10% to 20% of people who seek treatment for obesity.

What are the risks of being obese?

Extra body fat increases the risk of health problems, especially heart disease and stroke. Obesity can also

  • Raise LDL (“bad cholesterol”) and triglyceride levels.
  • Lower HDL or “good cholesterol” levels.
  • Raise blood pressure.
  • Cause diabetes.
  • Increase the risk of adult-onset asthma and other breathing problems.
  • Increase the risk of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA).
  • Increase the risk of certain kinds of cancers, including endometrial cancer, breast cancer, prostate cancer, and colon cancer.

Even if you do not have any other risk factors, obesity by itself increases your risk of heart disease. It also harms more than just your heart and blood vessels. Excess weight is very hard on your bones, joints, and muscles. It can also lead to gallstones.

How is obesity treated?

Obesity is usually treated with lifestyle changes, including diet and exercise.  Many doctors have changed the way they approach their patients’ weight loss. Studies have shown that even a modest weight loss—10% of body weight—can reverse some of the risks of obesity. Rather than having patients set goals that they might not be able to achieve, this “10% solution” has become the goal of most treatment programs.

In some cases, doctors can prescribe weight-loss medicines along with a program of diet and exercise. Ask your doctor whether these medicines are right for you.

In severe cases, surgery may be recommended.