Adult Obesity in America
Today, 66 percent of adults in the United States are considered overweight or obese. Obesity puts people at increased risk for chronic diseases such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke, and some forms of cancer.
The large number of people considered to be obese and the serious health risks that come with it make understanding its causes and treatment crucial.
Body Mass Index
BMI uses a mathematical formula based on a person's height and weight. BMI equals weight in kilograms divided by height in meters squared (BMI = kg/m2). The BMI table that follows has already calculated this information.
Although the BMI ranges shown in the table are not exact ranges of healthy and unhealthy weight, they are useful guidelines. A BMI of 25 to 29.9 indicates a person is overweight. A person with a BMI of 30 or higher is considered obese.
Like the weight-to-height table, BMI does not show the difference between excess fat and muscle. BMI, however, is closely associated with measures of body fat. It also predicts the development of health problems related to excess weight. For these reasons, BMI is widely used by health care providers.
Body Fat Distribution: "Pears" vs. "Apples"
Health care professionals are concerned not only with how much fat a person has, but also where the fat is located on the body. Women typically collect fat in their hips and buttocks, giving them a "pear" shape. Men usually build up fat around their bellies, giving them more of an "apple" shape. Of course, some men are pear-shaped and some women become apple-shaped, especially after menopause.
Excess abdominal fat is an important, independent risk factor for disease. Research has shown that waist circumference is directly associated with abdominal fat and can be used in the assessment of the risks associated with obesity or overweight. If you carry fat mainly around your waist, you are more likely to develop obesity-related health problems.
If you carry fat mainly around your waist, you are more likely to develop obesity-related health problems. Women with a waist measurement of more than 35 inches or men with a waist measurement of more than 40 inches have a higher health risk because of their fat distribution.
What are the consequences of obesity?
Obesity is more than a cosmetic problem. Many serious medical conditions have been linked to obesity, including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, and stroke. Obesity is also linked to higher rates of certain types of cancer. Men who are considered obese are more likely than non-obese men to develop cancer of the colon, rectum, or prostate. Women who are considered obese are more likely than non-obese women to develop cancer of the gallbladder, uterus, cervix, or ovaries. Esophageal cancer has also been associated with obesity.
Other diseases and health problems linked to obesity include:
- Gallbladder disease and gallstones.
- Fatty liver disease (also called nonalcoholic steatohepatitis or NASH).
- Gastroesophageal reflux, or what is sometimes called GERD. This problem occurs when the lower esophageal sphincter does not close properly and stomach contents leak back—or reflux—into the esophagus.
- Osteoarthritis, a disease in which the joints deteriorate. This is possibly the result of excess weight on the joints.
- Gout, another disease affecting the joints.
- Pulmonary (breathing) problems, including sleep apnea, which causes a person to stop breathing for a short time during sleep.
- Reproductive problems in women, including menstrual irregularities and infertility.
Health care professionals generally agree that the more obese a person is, the more likely he or she is to develop health problems.
Psychological and social effects
Emotional suffering may be one of the most painful parts of obesity. American society emphasizes physical appearance and often equates attractiveness with slimness, especially for women. Such messages may make people considered overweight feel unattractive.
Many people think that individuals who are considered obese are gluttonous, lazy, or both. This is not true. As a result, people who are considered obese often face prejudice or discrimination in the job market, at school, and in social situations. Feelings of rejection, shame, or depression may occur.