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Obesity and being overweight - the scale of the problem and benefits of weight loss

Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen MartinReviewed on 19.10.2023 | 5 minutes read
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In both the UK and the USA, as well as globally in general, obesity is a serious public health issue. Nearly two-thirds of adults in the UK are categorized as overweight, with more than a quarter being classed obese, according to the NHS Digital.

In the USA, more than 70% of adults are overweight or obese. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that since 1975, the prevalence of obesity has almost tripled globally, with more than 1.9 billion persons worldwide being overweight in 2016—more than 650 million of them were obese.

An increased risk of various prevalent diseases, such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and some cancers, is linked to being overweight or obese. According to research, being overweight also increased a person's risk of developing COVID-19 complications and was associated with a higher risk of developing serious disease and death from COVID-19.

Causes of obesity

Numerous factors, including an increase in the consumption of calorie-dense foods high in fat and sugar, as well as the sedentary nature of many jobs, changing modes of transportation, and growing urbanization, are to blame for the rise in obesity prevalence.

In addition to these elements, genetics also affects how obesity develops. Some people are prone to being overweight.  Another element that might contribute to obesity is insulin resistance. Insulin is a crucial hormone that regulates how fat is used or stored. Obesity and weight increase can result from the body developing insulin resistance.

It is crucial to remember that obesity is a complicated problem that can be affected by many elements, including genetics, environment, and lifestyle. To maintain a healthy weight and lower the risk of obesity-related health issues, it is crucial to adopt healthy behaviors, including frequent exercise and a balanced diet.

Overweight and obesity complications

Obesity is a serious health concern that increases the risk of many other health conditions and can affect a person's quality of life in more than one way.

Here are also some conditions that can be complications associated with obesity and being overweight:

  • Mental health issues such as anxiety and being self-conscious in social situations, low self-esteem, and even depression.
  • Metabolic diseases such as insulin resistance and associated complications such as type 2 diabetes, polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.
  • High blood pressure, heart disease, increased risk of stroke, and other cardiovascular problems, including erectile dysfunction.
  • Increased risk of musculoskeletal issues such as lower back pain, hip, knee or ankle pain, or osteoarthritis.
  • Breathing problems such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and increased risk of sleep apnea.
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and acid indigestion.
  • Increased risk of some cancers such as breast or bowel.

It is no wonder why losing weight can be the single greatest change that can reduce the risk of chronic disease and improve a person's life expectancy and quality of life.

Advantages of losing weight

Losing weight has many health benefits. Even a small amount of weight loss, such as 3% or more of your original body weight, and maintaining this for life, can significantly reduce your risk of developing obesity-related complications like diabetes and heart disease.

Losing weight can improve sleep, self-esteem, sex drive, energy, blood pressure, cholesterol, mobility, and breathing, and reduce heart disease and stroke risk.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) in the USA found that obese individuals who lost 5% of their body weight had improved metabolic activity in a variety of tissues, including fat, liver, and muscle. Additional gains came from additional weight loss of 10 to 15%.

In addition to the metabolic advantages, losing weight can lower one's risk of developing several illnesses, including type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and some cancers. According to research, decreasing weight can boost sleep quality and lower the chance of developing depression.

It is important to remember that treating obesity is a difficult process that calls for a variety of healthy behaviors, including consistent exercise and a well-balanced diet. A healthcare expert should be consulted before beginning any weight loss program.

Body Mass Index (BMI) and calculating obesity

Body Mass Index (BMI) is a simple weight-for-height index commonly used to classify overweight and obesity in adults. It is calculated by a person’s weight in kilograms divided by the square of their height in meters (kg/m²).

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines overweight and obesity as follows:

  • Overweight: BMI greater than or equal to 25
  • Obesity: BMI greater than or equal to 30

BMI is the best population-level indicator of overweight and obesity because it applies to both sexes and all ages of humans. It should be considered a rough guide because various people may have varied levels of fatness.

It is important to note that BMI has some limitations. It ignores body composition distinctions like muscle mass and bone density. It therefore may overestimate body fat in athletes and those with a muscular build and underestimate it in elderly people and others who have lost muscle mass.

You can use this tool to calculate your BMI or level of obesity.

Check your BMI
Using our calculator.
If you are receiving treatment for an eating disorder, then this tool is NOT to be used
Weight
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Height
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This article has been written by UK-based doctors and pharmacists, so some advice may not apply to US users and some suggested treatments may not be available. For more information, please see our T&Cs.
Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed on 19.10.2023
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