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Overweight & Obesity

What is overweight & obesity?

There are many definitions and descriptions of the phenomenon of overweight and obesity, but the low-down of it is simply a condition where we carry too much body fat.

The difference between being overweight or obese is to be found in the degree of severity of the condition – in other words:
how much we are overweight. In order to determine the degree of severity of an overweight condition, we must use some standard or measurement system to define where overweight begins, and at which point it can be regarded as obesity.

How do we measure overweight & obesity?

Several measurement systems for overweight and obesity have been developed through the years, all of which have as goal some standard which can be universally applied to measure weight status of all individuals with the same result.

The most accurate of these is direct measurement of body fat percentage, which has become a viable option due to technology progress in the last number of years.

However, the calculation of the Body Mass Index or BMI, is still widely used as a measurement standard, despite certain shortcomings. BMI is quoted in many public health reports and discussion forums as a measurement standard to define overweight and obesity.

How do we calculate Body Mass Index?

Your BMI is calculated by dividing your weight, in kilograms, by the square of your height, in meters.

For instance, the BMI of a person with a weight of 100kg and height of 2 meters would be 100 divided by 2 times 2, which is 100 divided by 4, resulting in a BMI of 25. You can do the same calculation using the Imperial units of pounds for weight and inches for height, but it requires a little extra arithmetic which involves multiplication by 704.5 to get the same result.

The higher the BMI, the higher the degree of overweight, and vice versa. One of the obvious shortcomings of BMI is clearly demonstrated by the example of a muscle-building athlete who, despite carrying very little body fat, may have a high BMI. In this case muscle mass accounts for the high weight-to-height ratio of the athlete, and BMI in this case is not a suitable gauge. In an extreme case such as this, direct body fat measurement is the only viable indicator, but for the majority of the general population worldwide, BMI is a pretty good reference, explaining why it is still popular.

How do we classify overweight & obesity?

According to the BMI measurement system, overweight is defined to start at a BMI beyond 25. A person is regarded as technically obese beyond a BMI of 30, and is regarded as very obese beyond a BMI of 40.

Direct measurement of body fat percentage is considered a more accurate yardstick. However, the definition of acceptable body fat percentage is a little less straightforward. It is higher in women than in men, and also increases with age for both sexes. A typical body fat upper limit for men in their mid-30’s is in the vicinity of 24%, and for women about 32%. Anywhere over these limits will technically be considered an overweight condition.

What are the causes of overweight & obesity?

Even though there may be a few medical or otherwise uncontrollable conditions that cause overweight and obesity in extreme cases, general consensus among the health and nutrition professional communities boils the matter down to a simple equation of energy.

If you consume more energy than you expend, you will gain weight. If you expend more energy than you consume, you will lose weight. Weight in this sense may imply both fat and muscle tissue.

There are, of course, factors in certain diet and exercise programs which may influence fat loss as opposed to muscle mass loss, but the basic equation remains. One of the clearest examples of life not being fair, can be found in the very real phenomenon of some people who are prodigious eaters and never seem to put on weight, versus the rest who can barely look at food without sending the bathroom scale quivering. All of this relates to how each of us utilize our energy intake. A genetic predisposition towards overweight and obesity is today recognized as a factor to be considered, but it need not have the final say in our body weight situation.

Overweight & obesity statistics

The information contained in the next 2 paragraphs originate from the American Obesity Association (AOA) web site Fact Sheets ( ).

According to the AOA, obesity has become a global epidemic, fuelled by environmental and behavioral changes brought about by economic development, modernization, and urbanization. Studies have shown that the prevalence of overweight and obesity is increasing worldwide at an alarming rate in children and adults, in both developing and developed countries. Obesity is cited as being the second leading cause of preventable death in the U.S.

According to current statistics, approximately
127 million adults in the U.S. are overweight, 60 million obese, and 9 million severely obese. Moreover, in adults, the incidence of overweight and obesity is increasing. Currently, 64.5 percent of U.S. adults, age 20 years and older, are overweight and 30.5 percent are obese. Severe obesity prevalence in the U.S. is now estimated at 4.7 percent, up from 2.9 percent previously reported.

The picture in the rest of the world shows a similar pattern. A news report published on 13 June 2004 in the Philadelphia Inquirer quoted a multi-volume parliamentary report in Britain, which stated that
the proportion of obese people in Britain had grown from about 7 percent to about 24 percent in the last 25 years, which amounts to two-thirds of the British population now being overweight or obese. That is almost the same level as the United States.

In the rest of Europe, most countries are not far behind, with a third to half of the adults counted as overweight. According to the report, obesity will soon pass smoking as the leading cause of death in Britain, and if the current trend continues, the incidence of diabetes and heart disease is set to soar. Statistics from other parts of the world such as Australia and South Africa reveal starkly similar tendencies.

The impact of overweight & obesity

Apart from the known health risks associated with overweight and obesity such as heart disease and diabetes which have very obvious impacts on both quality of life and life expectancy, being overweight represents a huge nuisance factor to most affected individuals. Regular clothes don’t fit, the most menial of physical activities become tiresome if not impossible, and ridicule from the leaner population is prevalent even in this enlightened age. All of these factors contribute to eroding self-esteem and undermining the sense of self-worth. Unfair? Of course. But nevertheless a reality for millions of people.

The overwhelming body of research and surveys show that the vast majority of overweight people would prefer to be lean. Emerging from the grip of obesity opens up a new world to the individual. Increased energy levels, a general sense of well-being and increased self-confidence are but a few of the known and documented benefits of weight loss. This is not only true for individuals who are very overweight or obese, but also for those wanting to lose just those few extra pounds.

Overweight & obesity treatment options

A common belief among the general public is that all people who lose weight are irrevocably destined to gain it all back sooner or later, and will end up even more overweight than when they first started out.

For many this may be true, but certainly not for
everybody. There are a variety of proven effective treatment options to manage your weight. These options include:

Effective treatment usually involves a combination of two or more of the treatment options, depending on the severity of the case. In general, most success stories are based on a combination of dietary and behaviour therapy together with an increase in physical activity.

What does all this information mean to the individual who needs to lose weight? There is only one bottom-line answer:
A change in lifestyle. It sounds simple enough, but many who have been through the process will testify to the fact that it can be more difficult than we think. We are creatures of habit, and changing habits especially when they provide a great deal of pleasure, comfort and consolation, is no simple matter. We need all the knowledge, encouragement and support to undertake a lifestyle change because to successfully sustain it is not easy. But the reward upon success is well worth it.

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