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Overweight & Obesity

Charles M. Carlsen

Published June 3, 2024
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A quick trip to the grocery store reveals a serious problem: processed foods in cans, boxes, and fancy packages. Most are overly processed and calorie-dense, but not necessarily in a good way.
And the sad part is, these days most of us are too lazy to do any exercise. These two major factors today contribute to a serious problem that the authorities have failed to tackle: that of overweight and obesity.
To address this issue, many U.S. citizens seeking to lose weight are adopting extreme meal and exercise plans. However, experiencing high levels of stress is not the answer, it is figuring out why obesity is happening.
This article explores obesity and overweight on a fundamental basis. Why? Because when what’s driving the conditions is clear, making the changes that support a health-centred lifestyle become easy.

Overweight and Obesity: What is the Difference?

You may use the words ‘overweight’ and ‘obese’ interchangeably, but W.H.O. says they’re different. That’s because the two words cannot be defined without referencing something called the BMI
So, what’s BMI? It stands for Body Mass Index—a tool used for getting an idea of a person's weight status. This is an individual's weight (kg), divided by his/her squared height (m). BMI readings usually fall between 18.5 and higher than 40.

Defining Adult Overweight and Obesity

So, using the BMI as a powerful tool, the W.H.O. defines an overweight person as someone whose BMI of 25 to 29.9. On the extreme of this scale, people who measure at 30 and above are considered as obese.
Here's a breakdown of BMI categories for adults:
breakdown of BMI categories for adults
There are some exceptions though. The Body Mass Index is not an absolute measurement of body weight. It simply takes into account a person’s height and weight—not necessarily how the weight is distributed.
Some people, such as bodybuilders or athletes may perfectly fit the ‘overweight’ category according to BMI rules. Yet, it's obvious that athletes and bodybuilders are in top form. This class of people have a lot of muscle tissues. They may also have body fat in different parts of their bodies—not just in one place, e.g. along the waist.
The World Health Organization (WHO) classifies persons above 18 years as adults. For adults, a BMI of 25 and higher is considered overweight. The obese category starts from 30 and upwards.

Defining Child BMI Categories

This exception also extends to children. For children and teenagers aged between 5 and 19 years, BMI is used differently. Because children and adolescents are still growing and developing, WHO conducts studies on children to develop a special set of growth charts to classify their weight. These charts, specific to age and sex, are different than the charts used for adults.
Here’s one of such charts:
Here's a simplified explanation:
  • Underweight: BMI is under the 5th percentile. This shows that the child is severely undernourished.
  • Healthy Weight: A child is healthy if his/her BMI falls within the 50th percentile. This is the normal range for their age and sex on the growth chart.  It is indicated as the green zone in the chart above.
  • Overweight: BMI falls above the 85th percentile on the growth chart.
  • Obese: A child's BMI is in the red zone, above two the 9th percentile on the growth chart.
These are still numbers that need the expert interpretation of a pediatrician. So if you’ve recently calculated your child’s BMI and have concerns, please visit a doctor. They’ll help you plan the best correction for the issue.

Causes of Obesity

There are some factors that always contribute to the obesity in most individuals. They are:
Diet
Diet is the most important factor when it comes to body weight. And it’s just simple mathematics. Eating more calories than you burn equates to adding more weight.
Sadly, most foods that come in boxes and cans in grocery stores are heavily processed. That means most of them have been stripped of their natural nutrients. Also, they are generally low in fiber.
This makes you want to eat more of the food before you start to feel satisfied. Additionally, many fast foods and snacks are calorie-dense but offer little nutritional benefits (what is termed ‘empty calories’).
Physical Activity
The second contributing factor is a lack of physical activity. Remember when we said if you consume more calories, you add more weight? The maths also applies to exercise: calories in = calories out. If you burn as much calories as you take in, you stay the same.
Unfortunately, a sedentary lifestyle forces millions of Americans to never exercise. That is about a quarter of Americans who meet the minimum guideline of 150 minutes a week of aerobic activity, according to a recent report from the CDC.
Genetics
Blame Lifestyle and Choices for a lot of weight gain problems—not everyone, but some people just can not help it. Genetics might be tipping us toward those choices. Research informs that there are about 250 genes in the human genome responsible for obesity.
These genes could determine whether you have a fast or slow metabolism They may also influence how many calories your body burns. How full you are when you eat, etc. That is why some people love eating large meals and some do not

Consequences of Obesity

Unfortunately, people living with obesity constantly struggle with a few physical challenges. Sometimes, these challenges may compound to affect them psychologically. Let's look at the consequences in detail.
Physical Health
Obesity increases the risk factor for some chronic conditions, including:
Cardiovascular Disease
Obesity significantly raises the likelihood of conditions more, than any factor. This poses a concern especially considering that 40% of adults, in the United States are obese. The heart of an obese exerts much greater effort to circulate blood throughout the body.
But this puts pressure on the arteries as the blood pumps. As this happens, the pressure inside the arteries increases. This causes the blood pressure to increase and causes worse illnesses (of the heart). This is the leading cause of cardiovascular disease.
Metabolic Disorders
Obesity causes conditions like type 2 diabetes—a condition that disrupts the body’s precise ability to regulate sugars, fat, and hormones. Other disorders linked to Obesity include fatty liver disease (NAFLD), and metabolic syndrome.
Musculoskeletal Issues
A higher BMI means more weight on the body’s mechanical framework—the bones. And no parts of the body feel the weight (and strain that comes with it) more than the joints. The joints are where movement happens.
This strain can quickly wear out the body’s cartilage and lead to aches and stiffness.
Other Health Concerns
Not only does obesity put an individual at risk of all sorts of respiratory problems (like asthma), it also causes mental health conditions (depression and anxiety to name a couple).
Psychological Health
Self-Esteem
People with low self-esteem can develop low self-esteem about themselves. Sometimes, this feeling sets in after being discriminated against severely in public settings. Stigma and body shaming also contribute to the severity of the situation and can lead to a feeling of worthlessness.
Depression
As a result, people living with obesity are prone to depression. And that’s a fact. Around 43% of people who are depressed are suffering from obesity. As a byproduct, obesity sufferers are mostly socially isolated.
Social Anxiety
Social anxiety is simply the fear of being judged. In this case, obese people dread being judged for their body size. This causes them to prefer being indoors and avoid social gatherings as much as possible.
These are grim consequences, yet there is hope. Obesity is a treatable condition. Instead of seeing the solution as grueling exercise and meal plans—which don’t work well in the long term—adopting lifelong healthy lifestyle choices is the solution.

Data and Statistics

Obesity is not an epidemic only in the U.S. It is a worldwide phenomenon–and it’s quite alarming. Here are some statistics to put things in perspective:
  1. More than 1 billion adults worldwide are obese.
  2. The rate of obesity is growing almost unchecked. At the current rate, half the world may be obese by 2035
  3. Children who were either overweight or obese numbered 38.2 million. That’s according to studies in 2019. About half this number lived in Asia.
  4. About $190 billion per year is spent to manage obesity in the US alone. Yet, experts predict that this number will only grow. 
  5. Globally, this number is in the trillions of dollars (about $4.1 trillion).
  6. Obesity rates vary significantly across different regions. A survey of 103 countries showed that obesity is more prevalent in high-income countries. But there’s a twist: it’s the poor in these countries who are mostly obese.
  7. In context with the above point, overweight (BMI of 25 or greater) is present in all wealth groups.

Moving Forward

Just looking at the numbers above is enough cause to be depressed. But here's the good news; You have the power to alter the story. Whether you are presently dealing with weight issues or aiming to steer clear of weight gain there is reason, for optimism.
Ultimately, your doctor has the final say when it comes to your keeping/getting in shape, but here are general, data-backed solutions:
  • Increase Fruits and Vegetables: Eat lots of fruits as doing so can save you from cardiovascular disease. Dietary guidelines in the U.S. suggest you take at least five servings per day.
  • Choose Whole Grains: Eat less food made with refined carbohydrates. Bread and pasta fall in this category. Instead, choose whole grains like brown rice and quinoa. Whole-wheat bread is also good for you.

    Studies show that consuming whole grains helps you lose calories by filling you up with way fewer calories than processed foods do. This aids metabolism and promotes weight loss.
  • Focus on Lean Protein Sources: Experts say that consuming protein helps keep your hunger hormone, Grelin, in check. So when you consume lean protein from fish, poultry, and beans, you will feel more satisfied. Naturally, this lets you consume fewer calories per meal. 
  • Increase Physical Activity: As important as food is physical activity. Aim for at least 150 minutes of cardio each week. It doesn’t have to be grueling. Spread the time throughout the week so that it's manageable for you. 
  • Sleep: Short sleep (less than 6-7 hours of sleep per night) is bad for you. Research has shown that short sleep has a solid correlation with higher BMI. Aim for seven to eight hours each day. A good night’s rest can help promote metabolism. Plus, when you sleep, there is less chance of you eating at odd hours—a significant factor contributing to obesity.
These are not just tips for losing weight, but rather, lifelong lifestyle recommendations for everyone, obese/overweight or not. When you realize that losing excess weight is not a weight loss program, it becomes easier to deal with.
Follow the above tips to gradually cut calories each day, consistently, and you’ll soon be losing pounds.

Conclusion

Trying to tackle overweight and obesity can feel like being led into a maze. It’s hard to know where to direct your attention. Yet, it’s doable.
The first step is making small, gradual changes. Small changes in diet and lifestyle bring results: healthy eating behavior, greater activity, and a balanced lifestyle.
Bear in mind that there is no one-size-fits-all approach; speaking with a doctor or registered dietician can lead to a tailored approach to moderate weight.
Ultimately, we hope that you’ll become a healthier, happier you – and getting there is possible, with the right kind of support.
Read our other articles, find your interests, and stay healthy.

Sources

1. Abildso, C. G., Daily, S. M., Meyer, M. R. U., Perry, C. K., & Eyler, A. (2023). Prevalence of meeting Aerobic, Muscle-Strengthening, and combined physical activity guidelines during leisure time among adults, by Rural-Urban Classification and Region — United States, 2020. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 72(4), 85–89.

2. About healthy weight and growth. (2024, February 20). Healthy Weight and Growth.

3. All about adult BMI. (2022, June 3). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

4. Anonim. (2020, February 28). How much exercise per week to be healthy. Exercise Poster.

5. ‌Economic costs. (2016, April 8). Obesity Prevention Source.

6. Gaps remain between what’s known about obesity and how it’s being treated. (2024, May 20). www.heart.org.

7. Holland, K. (2022, January 19). Are obesity and depression related? And 9 other FAQs. Healthline.

8. Indicator Metadata Registry details. (n.d.).

9. Loeppky, J. (2024, March 4). 1 Billion People Have Obesity Worldwide, What Researchers Say is the Cause. Healthline.

10. Rdn, C. M. (2024, January 17). How many servings of fruits and vegetables should you aim to eat every day? Real Simple.

11. Tirthani, E., Said, M. S., & Rehman, A. (2023, July 31). Genetics and obesity. StatPearls - NCBI Bookshelf.
Article by
Charles M. Carlsen
Hello! I'm Charles, As co-founder of Drsono, I contribute to the DRSONO blog, providing valuable insights and up-to-date information on ultrasound technology and diagnostic imaging.

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