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How Obesity is Defined: Causes, Risks and Treatments

How Obesity is Defined: Causes, Risks and Treatments

Obesity is a worldwide preventable issue that has tripled since 1975. According to WHO (the World Health Organisation), around 2 billion adults are considered to be overweight, and 650 million of those are considered to be obese.

How do you define obesity?

Obesity is defined as an abnormal or excessive accumulation of fat that can affect the status of your health. This can be established through a BMI (body mass index) indicator that can indicate an overweight or an obese individual. A BMI however will not be used to diagnose obesity.

Whilst it can be an indicator, it cannot be used for diagnosing obesity since it does not account for muscle mass. You can have a high BMI if you are very muscly and do not have much fat. As such a BMI can determine if you are a healthy weight, but not if you are obese. But with that being said, BMI works the majority of the time. Unless you have a high muscle count, it should provide a good starting point to establish if you have excess body fat.

An alternative method is to use your waist size in addition to the BMI to see if you are overweight or obese. To be considered overweight, you will have a BMI of 25-29.9 and to be considered obese, you will have a BMI of 30-34.9. When thinking about waist measurements, men with a waist size of 94cm or more and women who have a waist size of 80cm or more are thought to be at a higher risk of developing problems that are closely related to obesity.

Overweight VS Obesity

We might not think that there is a difference between the two, but there is. Those who have a BMI that is higher than 25 are thought to be overweight. When this number expands higher into the 30 range, then those are considered to be obese. Therefore, the difference between the two is based on body mass.

What are the causes of obesity?

Obesity causes are a tricky concept for everyone is different, but overall the reason for obesity is the consumption of too much food in partnership with too little movement. When we eat lots of food, this produces high amounts of energy, especially if the food you are eating is fat or sugar, but if you do not work to burn that energy, the body will then store that as fat. Thus, increasing your weight.

With that being said, there are many other issues that can cause weight increase, whether that be physical, mental or medical. For instance:

Health/Medical Issues

If you have health issues, such as an underactive thyroid gland, this can cause weight gain. Though, the likeliness is much lower if you are treated with medication. Other conditions, such as Polycystic Ovary Syndrome and Cushing Syndrome, can also cause problems with an increase in weight. Additionally, if you are on medication for a condition or an illness, this can sometimes cause weight gain too.

If you have a physical disability, this may make it harder for you to exercise and therefore burn off the energy that you have from the foods that you consume.

It is worth noting that genetics can also contribute to obesity as they can make a person more susceptible to weight gain. It is thought that your genes can increase your chances of becoming obese.

Mental Health Issues

There is evidence to suggest that there is a direct link between obesity and mental health. There is a direct link between obesity causing mental health disorders, such as depression coming from a lack of an unhappy lifestyle and increased health risks. As a result of such behaviours as dieting and binge eating, an individual may feel more inclined to develop low self-esteem, concerns with their body image and further issues.

With that being said, there are mental health conditions that can actually cause weight gain. For example, those who struggle with mental health may be more inclined to adopt an unhealthy lifestyle or use food as a way to cope or escape current life.

Stress and other emotional factors can lead to an increase in food intake. Some people eat more when they are stressed and will eat if they are bored or upset.

Environmental Issues

Our environment plays a massive part in our weight. If you are more inclined to be influenced by things around you, this can make it harder to establish a healthy diet and regular exercise. If you live in a well build-up area, finding places to walk can be difficult and if you are not inclined to join a gym, it can prevent us from wanting to go out and get the exercise that we should be doing. A lack of physical stimulants can make it more difficult for us to engage in physical activities.

Living close to fast food restaurants can make it much more convenient than cooking, but this is not so good for us and the maintaining of our weight. Fast food will typically supply much bigger portion sizes, especially in the US, than we should be consuming, which means we have to work much harder to burn it off.

Some supermarkets can be expensive, particularly when it comes to the sales of healthy food. As such, it can be cheaper for low-income families to buy junk food and snacks, rather than fruit and vegetables. Advertisement in-store is particularly focused on unhealthy foods and this can become very tempting.

Rates of Obesity

We have taken these statistics from research to create an overview of obesity rates across the world. It has been estimated that obesity is responsible for around 4.7 million premature deaths each year, making it one of the largest health problems across the world.

As of 2018, 42.4% of U.S adults were thought to be considered obese, with this being broken down into gender. 43% of those were men and 41.9% were women. This means that almost half of the U.S are considered obese which is a massive percentage. When we consider how much this is costing the medical world, it is thought that obese U.S citizens are costing around $142billion in medical expenses each year. Each individual establishing around $1,429 in medical bills per year.

This obesity rate has been increasing since 1962, which recorded 23%. It is worrying to think that it has grown this much to the point where it has almost doubled.

Other places, such as England, have lower obesity rates in comparison but are still relatively high. From figures taken in 2016, the U.S was the 12th highest-ranking country for obesity rates, with the United Kingdom coming in 36th with 27.8%. Statistics will vary depending on countries definitions of what obesity and overweight rates are, so finding exact statistics are difficult, but we can use these as a varied guideline. All statistics were taken from the following sources:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

World Obesity

Our World in Data

Obesity Treatment and Treatments for Obesity

Whilst there isn't exactly a cure per say, there are methods that you can undertake in order to prevent or overturn your current state of obesity. Some treatment methods are available through your doctors or other means of medical care. Not all treatments have to be done through the doctors and they can be done at home.

Healthy Eating and Exercise

Creating a healthy eating plan and ensuring that you are taking part in regular exercise is the most effective and natural way to lose weight. If you have access to a gym, this is a great way to use workout machines to maximise your daily workouts. If you are obese and find physical activity difficult then you can start with daily walks. If you find yourself in a situation where you do not have access to this kind of environment, make use of the stairs in your house or apartment and walk up and down them.

Weight Loss Medicine

These are not something we would recommend unless they have been recommended or prescribed by your doctor. A lot of the weight-loss medicines that have been advertised online or through adverts and not a reliable source of weight loss. Most of what they claim has been found to be untrue and most herbal and dietary supplements simply do not work, especially for long term sustainable weight management. It is always best to avoid these types of programmes and choose a much more effective method of weight loss that does not pose a risk to your health.


Weight loss surgery can be offered to those who have tried other methods of weight loss but have failed. Surgeries, such as bariatric, can only be issued to those who are severely obese, with a BMI higher than 40 and other health conditions, such as diabetes and high blood pressure, which can only be resolved with weight loss.

They must have tried other methods of weight loss before being eligible and they must commit to long term follow-ups ensuring that they are maintaining a healthy lifestyle after the surgery. However, discuss this with your doctor in order to receive full medical knowledge.

Another surgery is gastric bypass, which involves placing surgical staples in the stomach and connecting a small portion of the stomach to the small intestine. This means that less food will make you feel full.

Health Risks due to Obesity

Whilst obesity can cause many health risks, there are some that are worse than others. But some of the most common and day to day risks that obesity can cause is:

  • Breathlessness
  • Snoring
  • Fatigue
  • Joint and Back Pain (body pain)
  • Increased Sweating

Whilst these are the more physical risks, there are risks such as:

  • Low-Self Esteem
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Isolation

Which can cause deep psychological and mental issues for those who are struggling with them and their weight. When we are healthy, we typically feel better about ourselves. Whilst we should not evaluate our worth or happiness through our weight, ensuring that we are healthy should be a priority. Health should come in the form of both mental and physical.

Some more serious health conditions that research has shown to be in connection with overweight individuals and obesity are:

  • Diabetes (type 2)
  • High Blood Pressure
  • Asthma
  • Some types of cancer
  • Gallstones
  • Sleep Apnoea

Whilst these can only be diagnosed by your doctor, these are possible results of obesity.

Effects of Obesity on the Healthcare System

Those who are overweight or obese will utilise the healthcare systems much more than those who are a healthy weight. This is due to the various health conditions that come hand in hand with excess body fat. Due to the impact that obesity has on the overall health of an individual, it is only natural that this would cause a higher strain on healthcare systems in the process of supplying for obese patients, especially when it is a preventable health issue.

It causes great financial strain on healthcare systems as they are having to increase the purchasing of medications. When you are obese, it can lead to higher dosages and frequent administration of medication, meaning more need to be issued.

In addition, equipment used to transport patients who are obese are going up in sales. This can be in the form of aids to help them into and out of beds, wheelchairs, bedside commodes and types of walkers. Due to an increase in obesity, hospitals and other forms of healthcare systems are having to purchase more equipment.


Whether your BMI indicates that you are overweight or obese, there are ways in which you can reduce the number of calories that you are consuming on a daily basis and work to exercise more. This seems difficult, but it is ultimately the best method of losing weight and overcoming your battle with obesity. This is a process and it cannot be done quickly, it involves a lifestyle change and this can be very hard. Acknowledge that you may have fallbacks, but this is okay. Recognise the fall and pick yourself back up.

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