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How Is Obesity Affecting Us Today?

By Sara Jacobson ; Updated August 14, 2017

One-third of American adults, adolescents and children are obese, according to a study published in the February 2014 issue of "JAMA." The potential health effects of obesity are numerous. Obesity may affect the body's ability to function normally, leading to a range of short- and long-term medical disorders. Body mass index, or BMI, is the measure of body fat most often used to determine whether a person is obese. A BMI of 30.0 or more typically indicates obesity.

Health Effects

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, obese people are at greater risk for a variety of medical conditions, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, gallstones, and breast and colorectal cancer. The risk for diabetes, heart attack and death from heart disease increases as BMI increases. Obesity may also contribute to the development and complications associated with other long-term medical conditions, including asthma, gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD, and osteoarthritis. Obese people also have an increased risk for depression and anxiety disorders. Compared to normal-weight children, obese children are more likely to become obese adults -- often developing obesity-related medical conditions in late adolescence or early adulthood.

Pregnancy Effects

Obesity increases the risk of complications during pregnancy, which may affect both mother and baby. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, obese women are more likely to develop conditions such as gestational diabetes and high blood pressure, and they are more likely to require a cesarean delivery. Fetuses of obese mothers are at increased risk of stillbirth, premature birth, and nervous system and heart birth defects. Weight reduction prior to pregnancy helps reduce the risk associated with maternal obesity.

Quality-of-Life Effects

A study published in the June 2005 issue of the "Journal of Public Health" found that obese people scored lower on health-related quality of life than those of normal weight. Obese study participants scored lower on physical and mental well-being, regardless of whether they had an obesity-related health condition. Consequences of obesity, such as arthritis and reduced mobility, may prevent obese people from participating in pleasurable physical and social activities. A reduced ability perform activities of daily living, such as bathing, walking and grooming, may also lead to a decreased quality of life.

Obesity Reduction

Weight loss with a reduction in body fat lowers the risk of developing obesity-related health conditions. The National Institutes of Health recommends that obese individuals strive for an initial goal of a 10 percent reduction in initial weight over a 6-month period, at a rate of 1 to 2 pounds weekly. Rapid weight loss is discouraged, as it often results in regaining weight and may cause complications such as gallstones. NIH notes that effective weight-loss therapy involves reduced calorie intake, increased physical activity and behavior therapy. Limiting dietary calories and increasing physical activity result in burning excess body fat for energy. Behavior therapy is important for changing unhealthy eating habits.

Talk with your healthcare provider before starting a weight-reduction program as there may be special considerations, based on your current health status.

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