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Obesity is a condition in which excess body fat has accumulated to such an extent that health may be negatively affected. It is commonly defined as a body mass index of 30 kg/m2 or higher. This distinguishes it from being overweight as defined by a BMI of 25 kg/m2 or higher.

Excessive body weight is associated with various diseases, particularly cardiovascular diseases, diabetes mellitus type 2, obstructive sleep apnea, certain types of cancer, and osteoarthritis. As a result, obesity has been found to reduce life expectancy. The primary treatment for obesity is dieting and physical exercise. If this fails, anti-obesity drugs and (in severe cases) bariatric surgery can be tried.

A combination of excessive caloric intake, lack of physical activity, and genetic susceptibility is thought to explain most cases of obesity, with a limited number of cases due solely to genetics, medical reasons, or psychiatric illness.

With rates of adult and childhood obesity increasing, authorities view it as a serious public health problem. Between 1980-2000, obesity among adults has more than doubled; obesity among adolescents has tripled. In the US, obesity is the second-leading cause of preventable death after smoking.

Obesity is often stigmatized in the modern Western world. It has, however been perceived as a symbol of wealth and fertility at other times in history and still is in many parts of Africa.




Obesity, in absolute terms, is an increase of body adipose tissue (fat tissue) mass. In a practical setting it is difficult to determine this directly. Therefore, obesity is typically assessed by BMI (body mass index) and in terms of its distribution via the waist circumference. In addition, the presence of obesity needs to be evaluated in the context of other risk factors such as medical conditions that could influence the risk of complications.


Body mass index or BMI is a simple and widely used method for estimating body fat mass. BMI was developed in the 19th century by the Belgian statistician and anthropometrist Adolphe Quetelet.


An obese male. Weight 146 kg/322 lbs, height 177 cm/5 ft 10 in. The body mass index is 46 kg/m2.

Body fat measurements and the measuring tape are recognized as  superior methods for measuring "weight loss".  When one declares that they want to "lose weight", what they often mean is that they want to lose fat. So, now that you've had your body fat percentage measured, what does the number really mean?  Understanding what your body fat percentage means can help you set goals for achieving a healthy weight.

First, your body fat percentage is simply the percentage of fat your body contains.  If you are 150 pounds and 10% fat, it  means that your body consists of 15 pounds fat and 135 pounds lean body mass (bone, muscle, organ tissue, blood and everything else).

A certain amount of fat is essential to bodily functions.  Fat regulates body temperature, cushions and insulates organs and tissues and is the main form of the body's energy storage.  The following table describes body fat ranges and their associated categories:

*General Body Fat Percentage Categories

Classification Women (% fat) Men (% fat)
Essential Fat 10-12% 2-4%
Athletes 14-20% 6-13%
Fitness 21-24% 14-17%
Acceptable 25-31% 18-25%
Obese 32% plus 25% plus
*American Council on Exercise

Knowing your body fat percentage can also help you determine if your weight loss goals are realistic.  Remember, weight loss doesn't always mean fat loss. For example:

Let's say you're a 130# woman with 23% body fat, and you goal is to "lose 20 pounds":

Initial body fat: 130# x 0.23 fat = 30 # body fat

Lean body mass: 130# total - 30# fat = 100# lean body mass (bones, organs and all else)

Goal: 130# - 20# = 110 pounds

As you can see, the goal of losing 20 pounds is not realistic or healthy.   At 110 pounds, this woman still requires 100# of lean body mass (bones, organs, etc.), but would only be carrying 10#, or only 9%  body fat.   From the chart above, you can see that this is a dangerously low percentage.

A better goal might be for the woman to reduce her body fat from 23% to 18%.  In this case:

130# x 0.18 = 23 # body fat

100# lean body mass + 23 # = 123# goal weight

So, for this individual to achieve a lean, but healthy 18% fat, she would need to lose only 7 pounds of fat, reducing her weight from her current 130 pounds  to 123 pounds.  Losing more than 7 pounds means losing lean body mass (usually  metabolically-active muscle tissue), which is clearly not desirable.

So before you decide that you need to "lose weight", remember to consider that "weight" consists of both lean body mass and body fat.

Body mass index (BMI) is a measure of body fat based on height and weight that applies to both adult men and women.


BMI Categories:

  • Underweight = <18.5
  • Normal weight = 18.5-24.9
  • Overweight = 25-29.9
  • Obesity = BMI of 30 or greater

The BMI Tables

Aim for a Healthy Weight:

Note: If this does not work with your browser or for a text alternative to this page, go to our CGI based BMI Calculator

Overweight is generally defined as having more body fat (adipose tissue) than is optimally healthy. Being overweight is a common condition, especially where food supplies are plentiful and lifestyles are sedentary. As much as 64% of the United States adult population is considered either overweight or obese, and this percentage has increased over the last four decades. A series of graphics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows the trend in which the prevalence of obesity has increased in the U.S. during the past three decades: Obesity Epidemic: U.S. Temporal Trends 1985-2004 Excess weight has reached epidemic proportions globally, with more than 1 billion adults being either overweight or obese. [1] Increases have been observed across all age groups.

A healthy body requires a minimum amount of fat for the proper functioning of the hormonal, reproductive, and immune systems, as thermal insulation, as shock absorption for sensitive areas, and as energy for future use. But the accumulation of too much storage fat can impair movement and flexibility, and can alter the appearance of the body.




See also: body fat percentage

The degree to which a person is overweight is generally described by Body Mass Index. Overweight is defined as a BMI of >= 25, thus it included pre-obesity defined as a BMI of 25-30 and obesity as defined by a BMI's >= 30. There are however several other common ways to measure the amount of adiposity or fat present in an individual's body.

The Body Mass Index, or BMI is a measure of a persons weight taking into account their height. It is given by the formula: BMI equals body weight divided by the square of the persons height; with weight in kilograms and height in meters. BMI numbers however are typically used and written as unitless numbers. BMI provides a significantly more accurate representation of body fat content than simply measuring a persons weight. It is highly correlated with both percentage of body fat and body fat mass. It does not take into account certain factors such as pregnancy or bodybuilding; however, the BMI is an accurate reflection of fat percentage in the majority of the adult population.
The weight of the individual is measured and compared to an estimated ideal weight. This is the easiest and most common method, but by far the least accurate, as it only measures one quantity (weight) and often does not take into account many factors such as height, body type, and relative amount of muscle mass.







Dr. Sanford Siegal's COOKIE DIETâ?˘


Denise Austin


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