Obesity

Published: February 6, 2012

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What Is It?

When a person is overweight and if their Body Mass Index (BMI) measures over 30, the person is considered obese. The Body Mass Index is a scale that calculates obesity by measuring a ratio between height and weight. A BMI of 25 to 29 is considered overweight, and a BMI above 30 is considered obese.

It is important to understand that BMI is only a rough guideline for measuring obesity. A person may have a high BMI for reasons other than obesity including muscle mass and bone density. A doctor considers additional factors including your diet and lifestyle when determining whether you are obese. It is important to understand that there are varying levels of obesity and that a heavy person is not necessarily obese.

Obesity is common and is a risk factor for multiple conditions and health complications hypertension, type II diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and cancer.

A person can become obese as a result of a variety of causes. Your weight may be related to your diet and exercise, or it may relate to other factors including injuries and underlying medical conditions.

Types

  • Simple obesity (alimentary obesity) makes up about 95% of obesity cases and results when a person consumes more calories than the amount of calories that the body can burn.
  • Secondary obesity results from underlying conditions such as Cushing's syndrome, polycystic ovary syndrome, and insulin tumors. Other conditions can also cause secondary obesity.
  • Childhood obesity occurs when children and adolescents are above the normal body weight for their age and height. Obese children are at risk for long-term problems such as diabetes, hypertension, thyroid problems, and high cholesterol. Even though these health complications are more common among older adults, they can still affect children. Obesity can cause problems for a child's healthy growth and development.

Symptoms & Warning Signs

Symptoms of obesity include weight gain and an excess of fatty tissue all over the body. People may experience pain in the joints and arthritis flare ups due to the amount of pressure put on the joints by the excess weight, backaches, sleep apnea, heartburn and indigestion. Obesity can also result in high cholesterol and triglyceride levels, high blood sugar, irregular menstruation, shortness of breath, and other potential complications.

Causes & Risk Factors

While poor eating habits and overeating are main causes of most obesity, hereditary also plays a vital part in becoming obese. You may become obese as a result of an underlying medical condition or injury. Some medications like steroids can also cause obesity as a side effect.

Prevention & Treatment

For people with secondary obesity, the underlying condition must be treated.

For people with primary obesity, a healthy eating plan combined with exercise is generally the first course of treatment. A healthy diet plan helps the person to burn more calories than they consume, so that the weight comes off slowly over a period time, giving them the best chance of not regaining the weight later. Sometimes, doctors will also prescribe appetite suppressant medication.

Weight Loss Surgery

Bariatric surgery is a term used to describe all weight loss surgical procedures. Two bariatric surgical procedures have gained popularity for treating obesity. They are gastric bypass surgery and the laparoscopic adjustable gastric band (Lap-Band):

  • The Lap-Band is inflatable and made out of silicone. Through laparoscopic surgery, the doctor places the band around the top portion of the stomach. The band helps to create a space at the top of the stomach that limits how much food patients can eat at any given time. The band helps people feel full and eat less at each meal. Over time, the lap band patient will lose weight. Doctors recommend the Lap-Band for patients who have a BMI above 40. Unlike other weight loss surgeries, the Lap-Band does not permanently alter the digestive tract. Doctors can deflate and remove the band in order to reverse the surgery.
  • Gastric bypass is a permanent surgical option. The surgeon will divide the stomach into two parts and then reconnect the intestine. There are several techniques used to reconnect the intestine, and many gastric bypass surgeries have different names. Gastric bypass surgery causes permanent changes to the stomach and digestive tract, and effects usually cannot be reversed. More and more doctors are performing gastric bypass procedures through a technique called laparoscopy, where the doctor creates small incisions and inserts a video camera. The doctor can perform the surgery using a video camera.

Tests & Diagnosis

Diagnosis of obesity is made based on the visual appearance, weight, and BMI rating. Calipers are tools that measure the amount of body fat in a given area. However, most cases of obesity are quite obvious with a visual examination.

A doctor can also examine the type of weight gain in order to determine whether you have an underlying condition and whether you are at risk for complications down the road. Normally, if the fat is concentrated around the stomach and middle area, then the person is more at risk for certain conditions like cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. When fat is concentrated in the hips and thighs, then the person is at less risk of developing those above conditions.

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