Obesity is a condition in which excess fat accumulates in the body. Commonly, this results in weight gain. The combined effects of the two conditions present various health problems leading to reduced life expectancy.
Determination of Obesity
Body Mass Index (BMI) is a simple comparison of weight-for-height that is commonly used to classify overweight and obesity in adults. It is defined as a person’s weight in kilograms divided by the square of his/her height in meters (kg/m2).
Body mass Index (BMI) = Mass (kg)/Height in (M) 2
Below is the interpretation of BMI ranges
|Category||BMI Range Kg/M2|
|Normal healthy weight||18.5 to 24.9|
|Overweight||25 to 29.9|
|Obese Class 1(Moderately obese)||30 to 34.9|
|Obese Class 2(Severely obese)||35 to 40|
|Obese Class 3(Very severely obese)||Over 40|
BMI is as a rough guide. It’s not used to definitively diagnose obesity since people who are very muscular sometimes have a high BMI, but without excess fat. However, for most people, it can be a useful indicator of overweight and obesity.
A better measure of excess fat is waist circumference, and can be used as an additional measure in people who are overweight (BMI of 25 to 29.9) or moderately obese (BMI of 30 to 34.9).
Generally, men with a waist circumference of 94cm or more and women with a waist circumference of 80cm or more are more likely to develop obesity-related health problems.
What causes obesity?
Obesity is generally caused by consuming more calories in food and burning less calories through physical activities. The excess calories (energy) is stored by the body as fat.
It’s an increasingly common problem, because many modern lifestyles often promote eating excessive amounts of cheap, high-calorie food and spending a lot of time sitting at desks, on sofas or in cars. There are also some underlying health conditions that can occasionally contribute to weight gain, such as an underactive thyroid gland (hypothyroidism), although conditions such as this don’t usually cause weight problems if they are well controlled.
Effects of Obesity
Some of the common problems associated with obesity include:
- Increased sweating
- Difficulty in performing physical activities
- Feeling tired most of the time
- Joint and back pain
- Low confidence and self-esteem
- Feeling isolated
Further, medical conditions associated with obesity include
- Diabetes– a condition in which a person’s blood sugar is too high
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Atherosclerosis-where fatty deposits narrow the blood vessels leading to stroke
- Metabolic syndrome– a combination of diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity
- Gastro-oesophageal reflux disease, where stomach acid leaks back into the oesophagus.
- Gallstones– small stones (usually made of cholesterol) that form in the gallbladder
- Reduced fertility
- Osteoarthritis– a condition associated with pain and stiffness in joints
- Sleep apnoea– interrupted breathing during sleep
- Liver diseaseand kidney disease
Note: Obesity reduces life expectancy by up to 10 years, depending on severity of the problem.
Management of obesity
The best way to manage obesity is to eat a healthy diet, with reduced calories. In addition, physical exercises should be undertaken regularly to burn the excess calories. To do this one should:
- Eat a calorie-controlled, balanced diet as recommended by your GP or weight loss management health professional (such as a dietician)
- Join a local weight loss group
- Commence physical activities like cycling, walking, jogging, swimming for about 300 minutes a week
- Avoid situations where you know you could be tempted to overeat
You may also benefit from psychological support from a trained healthcare professional, to help change the way you think about food and eating.
If lifestyle changes alone don’t help you lose weight, seek professional assistance from your doctor or nutritionist.
In rare cases, surgery for weight loss may be recommended.
There is no “quick fix” solution for obesity. Weight loss programmes take time and commitment, but they work best when people are able to complete the programmes fully.
Regular weight monitoring, setting realistic goals and assistance from family/friends can also help.
Remember that even losing what seems like a small amount of weight (such as 3% or more of your original body weight), and maintaining this for life, can significantly reduce your risk of obesity-related complications.
Society faces double disease burden today. In addition to infectious diseases and malnutrition, non-communicable disease risk factors are common especially in urban settings.
The irony is that under nutrition and obesity exist side by side within the same population and even household.
While we continue to deal with the problems of infectious disease and under-nutrition, we experience a rapid upsurge in noncommunicable disease risk factors such as obesity and overweight, particularly in urban settings.
Children may be at a higher risk due to inadequate child nutrition alongside high exposure to sugar and high cholesterol diets.
How can overweight and obesity be controlled?
Overweight and obesity, alongside noncommunicable diseases, are largely preventable.
At family and personal level, we should
- Limit energy intake from total fats and sugars;
- Increase consumption of fruit and vegetables, as well as legumes, whole grains and nuts;
- Engage in regular physical activity of about 300 minutes per week.
At society and governance level we should;
- Make regular physical activity and healthier dietary choices available, affordable and easily accessible to all – especially the poor
- The food industry can play a significant role in promoting healthy diets by reducing the fat, sugar and salt content of processed foods;
- Ensuring that healthy and nutritious food is available and affordable to all consumers.
- Practice responsible marketing of food especially to children and teenagers;
- Promote healthy food choices and support regular physical activity at workplace.
Prevention– Healthy Tips
Weight Loss: Weight loss is a popular and most difficult resolution to achieve. Do not be desperate or expect an overnight success, and avoid quickie cures. A nutritionist would be helpful to give guidance on the appropriate regime to follow.
Reduce your alcohol intake: Though small amount of alcohol is known to have health benefits, too much of it can cause bigger problems especially binge drinking
Cut down your stress: A little stress here and there will boost energy. However, if stress becomes chronic, it can increase the risk of developing depression, obesity, insomnia and heart disease and many more. As much as stress is inevitable in our lives, take time to relax, have enough sleep, socialize and take vacations whenever you can to promote your health.
Stop smoking: Tobacco and nicotine can be addictive like alcohol with long term effects.
Eat healthy: Eating a balanced diet promotes your overall health and reduces chances of lifestyle related diseases and conditions such as Diabetes. Increase dietary fibre (in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains). Switch from bad ‘fats’ to healthy ‘oils’ e.g. Sunflower and olive oils. Limit your intake of table sugar and if possible use alternative sweeteners.
Exercise regularly: For most people walking is the safest, cheapest and simplest form of exercise. Exercise your body at least three times a week or once a day if you can.
Keep in touch: Strong social bonds reduce stress and promote overall health. Limited or lack of social interaction weight down on one’s social health. It pays to visit loved ones in person.
Travel: A change of scenery is good for the body and soul. Once in a while break the monotony of your normal daily routine and have some adventure. It gives you a new lease of life.
Check on you sleeping habits: Sleep and good rest are vital for health wellness. Try to establish a regular sleep pattern.
See your doctor: Resolve to visit your doctor for annual physical tests to evaluate your overall health. This will help identify any underlying silent conditions. If the tests are normal, then you can live free knowing you have a clean bill of health.