OBESITY: Causes, Symptoms and Management

OBESITY: Causes, Symptoms and Management

08 Jan

Overweight and obesity are defined as abnormal or excessive fat accumulation that presents a risk to health. A body mass index (BMI) over 25 is considered overweight, and over 30 is obese.

Obesity is a complex disease involving an excessive amount of body fat. Obesity isn’t just a cosmetic concern. It’s a medical problem that increases the risk of other diseases and health problems, such as heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and certain cancers.

Obesity is a medical condition in which excess body fat has accumulated to an extent that it may have a negative effect on health.People are generally considered obese when their body mass index (BMI), a measurement obtained by dividing a person’s weight by the square of the person’s height—is over 30 kg/m2; the range 25–30 kg/m2 is defined as overweight.

There are many reasons why some people have difficulty losing weight. Usually, obesity results from inherited, physiological and environmental factors, combined with diet, physical activity and exercise choices.

A healthier diet, increased physical activity and behavior changes can help you lose weight.

Obesity is a leading preventable cause of death worldwide, with increasing rates in adults and children.In 2015, 600 million adults (12%) and 100 million children were obese in 195 countries. Obesity is more common in women than in men.  Obesity is stigmatized in much of the modern world (particularly in the Western world), though it was seen as a symbol of wealth and fertility at other times in history and still is in some parts of the world. In 2013, several medical societies, including the American Medical Association and the American Heart Association, classified obesity as a disease.

Body mass index (BMI) is often used to diagnose obesity. To calculate BMI, multiply weight in pounds by 703, divide by height in inches and then divide again by height in inches. Or divide weight in kilograms by height in meters squared. Some symptoms are even known to increase a person’s risk of developing certain diseases and disorders. In some cases, these may be life-threatening or even fatal.

BMIWeight status
Below 18.5Underweight
30.0 and higherObesity
40.0 AND greaterExtremely (morbidly) obese

Asians with BMI of 23 or higher may have an increased risk of health problems.

For most people, BMI provides a reasonable estimate of body fat. However, BMI doesn’t directly measure body fat, so some people, such as muscular athletes, may have a BMI in the obesity category even though they don’t have excess body fat.

Many doctors also measure a person’s waist circumference to help guide treatment decisions. Weight-related health problems are more common in men with a waist circumference over 40 inches (102 centimeters) and in women with a waist measurement over 35 inches (89 centimeters).

Keep in mind that BMI isn’t always an accurate measurement of body fat content. For example, some athletes might have a higher than average weight simply because they have a high level of muscle mass, and muscle weighs more than fat.

This may technically qualify them for the obesity category, although they have very little body fat.

Although gaining a few extra pounds may seem insignificant as far as a person’s overall health is concerned, gaining too much weight can sometimes lead to a serious medical condition.

Common Symptoms in Adults

  • Excess body fat, particularly around the waist
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sweating more than usual
  • Snoring
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Skin problems from moisture accumulating in the folds of skin
  • Inability to perform simple physical tasks that one could easily perform before weight gain
  • Fatigue, which can range from mild to extreme
  • Pain, especially in the back and joints
  • Psychological issues such as negative self-esteem, depression, shame, and social isolation

Common Symptoms in Children and Adolescents

  • Fatty tissue deposits (may be noticeable in the breast area)
  • The appearance of stretch marks on the hips and back
  • Dark velvety skin around the neck and other areas.
  • Shortness of breath with physical activity
  • Sleep apnea
  • Constipation 
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
  • Low self-esteem
  • Early puberty in girls/delayed puberty in boys
  • Orthopedic problems, such as flat feet or dislocated hips

Although there are genetic, behavioral, metabolic and hormonal influences on body weight, obesity occurs when you take in more calories than you burn through normal daily activities and exercise. Your body stores these excess calories as fat.

In the United States, most people’s diets are too high in calories — often from fast food and high-calorie beverages. People with obesity might eat more calories before feeling full, feel hungry sooner, or eat more due to stress or anxiety.

Many people who live in Western countries now have jobs that are much less physically demanding, so they don’t tend to burn as many calories at work. Even daily activities use fewer calories, courtesy of conveniences such as remote controls, escalators, online shopping and drive-through banks.

Obesity is generally caused by eating too much and moving too little.

If you consume high amounts of energy, particularly fat and sugars, but do not burn off the energy through exercise and physical activity, much of the surplus energy will be stored by the body as fat.

Risk factors
Obesity usually results from a combination of causes and contributing factors:

1. Family inheritance and influences
The genes you inherit from your parents may affect the amount of body fat you store, and where that fat is distributed. Genetics may also play a role in how efficiently your body converts food into energy, how your body regulates your appetite and how your body burns calories during exercise. Genetic changes in human populations occur too slowly to be responsible for the obesity epidemic. Nevertheless, how people respond to an environment that promotes physical inactivity and intake of high-calorie foods suggests that genes do play a role in developing obesity.

Obesity tends to run in families. That’s not just because of the genes they share. Family members also tend to share similar eating and activity habits. Family health history reflects the effects of shared genetics and environment among close relatives. Families cannot change their genes, but they can encourage healthy eating habits and physical activity. Those changes can improve the health of family members—and improve the health history of the next generation.

2. Lifestyle choices

  • Unhealthy diet. A diet that’s high in calories, lacking in fruits and vegetables, full of fast food, and laden with high-calorie beverages and oversized portions contributes to weight gain.
  • Liquid calories. People can drink many calories without feeling full, especially calories from alcohol. Other high-calorie beverages, such as sugared soft drinks, can contribute to significant weight gain.
  • Inactivity. If you have a sedentary lifestyle, you can easily take in more calories every day than you burn through exercise and routine daily activities. Looking at computer, tablet and phone screens is a sedentary activity. The number of hours spent in front of a screen is highly associated with weight gain.

3. Certain diseases and medications
In some people, obesity can be traced to a medical cause, such as Prader-Willi syndrome, Cushing syndrome and other conditions. Medical problems, such as arthritis, also can lead to decreased activity, which may result in weight gain. Drugs such as steroids and some antidepressants may also cause weight gain. Research continues on the role of other factors in energy balance and weight gain such as chemical exposures and the role of the microbiome.

Some medications can lead to weight gain if you don’t compensate through diet or activity. These medications include some antidepressants, anti-seizure medications, diabetes medications, antipsychotic medications, steroids and beta blockers. A health care provider can help you learn more about your health habits and history to identify whether behaviors, illnesses, medications, and/or psychological factors are contributing to weight gain or making weight loss hard.

4. Social and economic issues
Social and economic factors are linked to obesity. Avoiding obesity is difficult if you don’t have safe areas to walk or exercise. Similarly, you may not have been taught healthy ways of cooking, or you may not have access to healthier foods. In addition, the people you spend time with may influence your weight — you’re more likely to develop obesity if you have friends or relatives with obesity.

Direct medical costs may include preventive, diagnostic, and treatment services. Indirect costs relate to sickness and death and include lost productivity. Productivity measures include employees being absent from work for obesity-related health reasons, decreased productivity while at work, and premature death and disability.

5. Age
Obesity can occur at any age, even in young children. But as you age, hormonal changes and a less active lifestyle increase your risk of obesity. In addition, the amount of muscle in your body tends to decrease with age. Generally, lower muscle mass leads to a decrease in metabolism. These changes also reduce calorie needs and can make it harder to keep off excess weight. If you don’t consciously control what you eat and become more physically active as you age, you’ll likely gain weight.

6. Other factors

  • Pregnancy. Weight gain is common during pregnancy. Some women find this weight difficult to lose after the baby is born. This weight gain may contribute to the development of obesity in women.
  • Quitting smoking. Quitting smoking is often associated with weight gain. And for some, it can lead to enough weight gain to qualify as obesity. Often, this happens as people use food to cope with smoking withdrawal. In the long run, however, quitting smoking is still a greater benefit to your health than is continuing to smoke. Your doctor can help you prevent weight gain after quitting smoking.
  • Lack of sleep. Not getting enough sleep or getting too much sleep can cause changes in hormones that increase appetite. You may also crave foods high in calories and carbohydrates, which can contribute to weight gain.
  • Stress. Many external factors that affect mood and well-being may contribute to obesity. People often seek more high-calorie food when experiencing stressful situations.
  • Microbiome. Your gut bacteria are affected by what you eat and may contribute to weight gain or difficulty losing weight

Even if you have one or more of these risk factors, it doesn’t mean that you’re destined to develop obesity. You can counteract most risk factors through diet, physical activity and exercise, and behavior changes.

People with obesity are more likely to develop a number of potentially serious health problems, including:

  • Heart disease and strokes. Obesity makes you more likely to have high blood pressure and abnormal cholesterol levels, which are risk factors for heart disease and strokes. Being obese can lead to high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, heart attacks, and even stroke. This is because obesity can contribute to the clogging of the arteries, which could make it harder for your heart to pump blood and put added pressure on your organs. 
  • Type 2 diabetes. Obesity can affect the way the body uses insulin to control blood sugar levels. This raises the risk of insulin resistance and diabetes. As a result, you may become insulin resistant and end up with high blood sugar. Diabetes is dangerous if not treated, because it can lead to blindness, circulatory problems, nerve damage, and even death.
  • Certain cancers. Obesity may increase the risk of cancer of the uterus, cervix, endometrium, ovary, breast, colon, rectum, esophagus, liver, gallbladder, pancreas, kidney and prostate.
  • Digestive problems. Obesity increases the likelihood of developing heartburn, gallbladder disease and liver problems.
  • Sleep apnea. Obstructive sleep apnea is a serious health condition in which tissues around the throat cut off the airway, forcing the sufferer to wake up briefly to breathe. This can happen many times throughout the night and leave the sufferer exhausted and unable to function the next day. If you’re obese, the extra fat around your neck could cause added pressure and increase the potential for tissues around your throat to block your airway. People with obesity are more likely to have sleep apnea, a potentially serious disorder in which breathing repeatedly stops and starts during sleep.
  • Osteoarthritis. Obesity increases the stress placed on weight-bearing joints, in addition to promoting inflammation within the body. These factors may lead to complications such as osteoarthritis.
  • Severe COVID-19 symptoms. Obesity increases the risk of developing severe symptoms if you become infected with the virus that causes coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). People who have severe cases of COVID-19 may require treatment in intensive care units or even mechanical assistance to breathe.

Quality of life
Obesity can diminish the overall quality of life. You may not be able to do physical activities that you used to enjoy. You may avoid public places. People with obesity may even encounter discrimination.

Other weight-related issues that may affect your quality of life include:

  • Depression
  • Disability
  • Shame and guilt
  • Social isolation
  • Lower work achievement

How to cure it naturally?
Losing weight might not be as easy as it sounds, but it can provide you with significant health benefits. Losing even 5 to 10% of your body weight can help in curbing obesity and improving your health. Diet and exercise are the two most powerful tools that can help you with weight loss.

1. Dietary changes
Now this does not mean you need to crash dieting for weight loss. You need to cut down your calorie intake, slowly and gradually. Junk, deep fried, processed and packaged foods should be completely off the table. Consume a diet rich in proteins and fiber as it will help you feel full quickly and keep you feeling full for longer. Watch your portion size and consume fewer carbs. Stick to simple carbs. Avoid going on low-carb or crash diets. They may help you with quick weight loss but they can lead to nutritional deficiencies as they restrict intake of entire food groups at times. Consulting a dietician would work the best for you if you want to curb obesity.

Avoid crash-dieting- Trying to lose weight quickly by crash-dieting carries the following risks:

  • New health problems may develop.
  • Vitamin deficiencies can occur.
  • It is more difficult to achieve healthy weight loss.

In some cases, a doctor may suggest that a person with severe obesity should follow a very low-calorie liquid diet. A health professional should monitor this strategy to ensure that the person remains safe while following the diet.

2. Be physically active
Try to be physically active. Walk briskly, take the steps instead of the elevator wherever possible. Engage yourself in chores like gardening, dog walking and other household chores. An obese person is less likely to be physically active. Before they begin with exercising, starting with these activities can definitely help to you to move. People who are not used to exercising may experience mobility problems. Good ways to start getting active include:

  • walking briskly
  • swimming
  • using the stairs instead of the elevator
  • getting off the bus or train one stop earlier and walking the rest of the way

Doing chores such as gardening, housework, or walking the dog all contribute.

3. Hormonal balance
Hormonal imbalance can lead to obesity, and make weight loss more difficult than usual. The moment you are diagnosed with obesity, make sure you check your hormones. Hormonal imbalance can cause hypothyroidism, PCOD and type 2 diabetes. A healthy lifestyle with less stress, no smoking and limited alcohol consumption. Try to balance your hormones and you will eventually begin to lose weight and get rid of obesity.

4. Avoid sugar
Sugar-sweetened beverages and desserts or any other food item with added sugar should be avoided. Consumption of sugar can lead to an increase in belly fat and cause obesity. People with obesity should try to have healthier sugar alternatives like honey, jaggery, coconut sugar and dates.

5. Get enough sleep and take less stress
Being chronically stressed can have harmful effects on the body. Not only can it lead to obesity, it can also make you binge eat or delve into comfort food. This only worsens the condition. Also, you need to sleep well in order to prevent obesity and get rid of it. Lack of sleep can make you feel tired and also make you overeat. If you want to get rid of obesity the natural way, make sure you sleep well and take as less stress as possible. Exercising, listening to music and doing things that make you feel light can help you feel less stressed.