For many years, obesity was considered a problem of willpower, but the American Medical Association now classifies it as a disease. Obesity has spread across the United States in recent history, leaving about two-thirds of American adults overweight or obese and at risk of developing obesity related diseases like diabetes and heart disease.
By its simplest definition, obesity means we have too much body fat, but the causes and effects of the condition can be complicated.
“For each person the reason why we gain weight varies,” says medical obesity specialist Dr. Robert Ziltzer. “It’s not simply a matter of taking in too many calories or not burning enough calories—it’s much more complex than that.”
So many different factors can contribute to the problem that it’s often difficult to lose weight and get obesity under control.
How Do We Become Obese?
To understand how we gain weight, it helps to first understand how we take in and process energy.
All of us use calories from food as fuel for everything we do. Whether you’re going on a leisurely bike ride, chasing after your kids or cleaning up the dishes after dinner, you need energy from food to do it.
But when we don’t use all the calories we eat, our bodies convert them into fat. For our ancestors, this provided a backup energy source when food was scarce, but we don’t have as much trouble finding things to eat these days.
“It’s very easy now. You’ve got premade meals that you pull out of a package and you throw in the microwave, or you go to a local restaurant and within 20 minutes whatever food you want is at the table,” says Dr. Craig Primack, also a medical obesity specialist.
Convenient, unhealthy foods are all around us, and as a result, we tend to eat more calories than we need. We’re also surrounded by cars, computers, TVs, elevators and other things that encourage us to be as inactive as possible, so we’re less likely to burn the calories we take in.
Many people gain weight because they continue to take in more energy than they use through daily activity, but obesity can have more complicated causes as well. According to Dr. Ziltzer, people also often gain weight because of things like:
- A family history of obesity
- An environment that promotes weight gain
- Overeating due to stress
How Does Obesity Affect Us?
Obesity can make every physical task more difficult, but it can also take an emotional toll. The obese are often discriminated against or looked down on, while the fear of public humiliation caused by not fitting in an airplane or movie theater seat can keep many obese people from doing things they would otherwise enjoy.
But health may be where obesity makes the clearest impact. Excess weight affects every part of your body, and this means a higher risk for diseases like:
- Some forms of cancer
- Gallbladder disease
- Heart disease
- Sleep apnea
- Type 2 diabetes
Body mass index (BMI) is used to estimate body fat based on height and weight. As this number gets higher, so does the mortality rate, because the lives of many obese people are cut short by obesity-related diseases.
Even a moderate amount of weight loss can help obese people improve their lives and lower the risk of obesity-related diseases. However, obesity is a chronic condition—though there are many ways to lose weight, weight loss diets are often short-term, and the weight comes back when the diet ends.
To keep weight off, we typically need:
- Long-term dietary changes
- Long-term lifestyle changes
- A healthier relationship with food
- More daily physical activity
It can be challenging to make long-term changes like these without help and support, especially for the severely obese.
Reviewing Your Weight Loss Options
Weight loss is a huge industry in the United States. More than $60 billion is spent on weight loss programs, dieting methods, gym memberships and celebrity endorsed obesity-cures annually, and that number continues to grow. With an estimated two-thirds of the U.S adult population struggling with their weight this is not too surprising. Unfortunately, not all of this money will be invested into programs that encourage long-term weight loss.
How Does Fat Affect Us?
Fat can slow us down and change the ways our bodies look, but it can also affect us on a chemical level. Though we often think of fat as useless cushioning, body fat can have a strong influence on the body’s functions and contribute to numerous health problems as we develop more of it.
“Excess body fat sets off a whole cascade of medical conditions that include inflammation of the arteries and inflammation throughout the body,” says Dr. Robert Ziltzer, a medical obesity specialist.
Belviq for Weight Loss
Weight loss medications play a critical role in the weight loss process. The goal of medications is to encourage healthy habits by making it easier to follow a low-calorie diet. When combined with healthy dietary habits and regular activity, weight loss medications can encourage long-term weight loss success.
Belviq (lorcaserin) is an FDA-approved weight loss medication that influences appetite to reduce calorie consumption. It was the first medication of its kind to be approved by the FDA in a 13-year period.
Qsymia for Weight Loss
Qsymia is an FDA-approved weight loss medication that promotes weight loss by controlling appetite. The medication is recommended as one component of a comprehensive weight loss plan that features physician guidance and support, dietary changes and regular physical activity. When used in conjunction with healthy behaviors like these, the medication is proven to enhance weight loss.
What is a Bariatrician?
A bariatrician, also known as a bariatric physician or more recently an obesity medicine specialist, is a licensed physician with detailed training in the many aspects of medicine that are affected by obesity. Because of the surprising complexity of the disease of obesity, it takes a specialized weight loss physician, a bariatrician, to help patients lose weight, maintain weight loss, and avoid medical conditions and complications that are often associated with being overweight or obese.
Where is that Weight Coming From?
Obesity rates in the U.S. have soared in the past five decades, climbing from 13.4 percent of the adult population in 1960, to 35.7 percent in 2012. Nearly 70 percent of adults are either overweight or obese. While many people would like to blame obesity on genetic factors, these data tell a different story.
Yes, some people may have a genetic predisposition to excess weight, but for the vast majority of the population, there are other factors at play.
Studies Show Link Between Obesity and Cancer
If you’re overweight or obese, you’re not alone: According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), about 70 percent of adults in the United States are right there with you. That’s a sharp increase from 1994, when about 56 percent of U.S. adults were overweight or obese. Being obese carries significant health risks, such as sharp increases in the risk for diabetes, stroke, heart attack and, perhaps somewhat surprisingly, many types of cancer.