The epidemic of obesity threatens the health of millions of Americans.

Obesity is a complex disease with multiple causes that results in an unhealthy and inappropriate accumulation of stored fat in the body. Obesity substantially increases the risk for many associated diseases including high blood pressure, diabetes, sleep apnea, heart disease, and cancer. It will soon overcome smoking as the number one cause of preventable death in the United States.

Over 100 million Americans are overweight (two-thirds of the population), 60 million are obese (nearly 33 percent), and 11 million are severely or morbidly obese, with numbers rising. Healthcare costs in the United States for obesity-related diseases are approaching $100 billion dollars annually, approximately 5.5 percent of the total annual health care costs. 30 percent of U.S. adolescents are overweight and 15 percent are obese. Childhood obesity has doubled in the last several decades, and we know that 75 percent of obese children will become obese adults. Click here to view updated statistics on obesity in the U.S. from the American Obesity Association.

What Causes Obesity?

The exact cause of obesity remains unknown, but there are many plausible theories. We do know that obesity is a disease and not simply a character defect. Factors that play a role in the development of obesity are:

  • Genetic or inherited factors
  • Strong familial component to obesity
  • Dysfunction of genes that regulate metabolism, appetite, and satiety
  • Behavioral or psychological factors
  • Using food as a coping mechanism
  • Emotional eating
  • Eating disorders, such as binge eating
  • Learned eating behavior
  • Medical or endocrine causes
  • Cultural or environmental causes
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Technology that reduces our daily activity (TV remote, elevator)
  • High-calorie food readily available

Obesity represents a management challenge for physicians and a psychological and biological challenge for patients. Obese people often consider their condition to be a greater handicap than deafness, dyslexia or blindness.

Health Risks of Obesity?

Once a person becomes severely overweight, diet and exercise programs have dismal long-term results. Many people lose weight in the short term, but they gain it all back and then some. For those people, weight loss surgery is the only effective long term solution. The main problem associated with being overweight is a higher chance for early death. When people are overweight or obese, they are more likely to develop health problems such as the following:

  • Hypertension
  • Dyslipidemia (for example, high total cholesterol or high levels of triglycerides)
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Coronary heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Gallbladder disease
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Sleep apnea and respiratory problems
  • Some cancers (endometrial, breast, and colon)

There is a direct relationship between level of obesity and number of health problems that may develop. Studies show that if a person is overweight or obese, reducing body weight by 5 percent to 10 percent can improve one’s health.



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