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Risks and Consequences of Obesity

Obesity has been rising at an alarming rate in the U.S. and worldwide. The growing obesity epidemic has become one of the nation's top public-health concerns. Health experts from the National Institutes of Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warn that over two-thirds of the adult population is now overweight, and about half of those people are fully obese. Common causes of obesity include a sedentary lifestyle, too many calories devoid of nutritional value, overeating, and genetics. Obesity is more than an aesthetic issue; it is a major risk factor for a long list of chronic and potentially deadly diseases.

Obesity has put a huge toll on the healthcare system. Researchers have estimated that about 325,000 deaths in the U.S. per year are linked to obesity, which makes it the second most preventable cause of death behind smoking. Obesity is defined as being 20 to 30 pounds above the average weight for a person's age, sex and height, and having a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher. The BMI is a height-weight calculation which correlates body fat with risk for disease. A BMI between 20 and 25 is considered healthy for men and women.

According to the CDC, the health consequences of obesity include heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, certain cancers, type 2 diabetes, insulin resistance, glucose intolerance, osteoarthritis, fatty liver disease, gallbladder disease and gallstones, gastroesophageal reflux (GERD), gout, bladder control problems (such as stress incontinence), and breathing problems (including sleep apnea). Emotional problems associated with obesity include eating disorders, depression and low self-esteem. Obese women are more likely to develop reproductive and hormonal problems, as well as cancer of the uterus, cervix, ovaries, or gallbladder. Obese men are more likely to develop cancer of the prostate, rectum or colon.

Research shows that people who are obese can reduce the chances of developing these health problems through weight loss. Reducing body weight by 5 to 10 percent of initial body weight can improve their health. Recent studies found that a 5 to 7 percent reduction of weight through diet and exercise can delay or prevent the onset of type 2 diabetes.

Studies continue to show that the conventional prescription for achieving and maintaining your best weight is still the healthiest - through lifestyle education, eating a healthful, balanced diet of fat, protein and carbohydrates, cutting calories, and 30 to 60 minutes of physical activity per day.

  1. Overweight and Obesity: Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs), U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):

  2. Understanding Adult Obesity, National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK):

  3. Mokdad AH et al. The Spread of the obesity Epidemic in the United States, 1991-1998. JAMA 1999;282:1519-1522.

  4. AHA Dietary Guidelines Revision 2000: A Statement for Healthcare Professionals from the Nutrition Committee of the American Heart Association. Circulation 2000 Oct31;102(18):2284-99.

  5. Scott JR, Just the FAQs: What are the Health Consequences of Obesity?, About.com:

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