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Overview of Obesity

Facts about obesity

Overweight and obesity together make up one of the leading preventable causes of death in the U.S. Obesity is a chronic disease that can seriously affect your health.  

Overweight means that you have extra body weight, and obesity means having a high amount of extra body fat. Being overweight or obese raises your risk for health problems, including coronary heart disease, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, sleep apnea, and certain types of cancer.

Public health experts agree that overweight and obesity have reached epidemic proportions in this country and around the world. More than a third of U.S. adults are obese. People ages 60 and older are more likely to be obese than younger adults, according to the most recent data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. And the problem also affects children. One out of five, or 17%, of U.S. children ages 6 to 19 are obese.

Who's obese?

View of a man's belly as he's sitting on a bench. He's wearing a yellow shirt.

Overweight and obesity are different points on a scale that ranges from being underweight to being morbidly obese. Where you fit on this scale is determined by your body mass index (BMI).

BMI is a measure of your weight as it relates to your height. BMI usually gives you a good idea of the amount of body fat you have. Your health care providers use BMI to find out your risk for obesity-related diseases. Occasionally, some very muscular people may have a BMI in the overweight range. But these people are not considered overweight because muscle tissue weighs more than fat tissue.

In general, a BMI from 20 to 24.9 in adults is considered to be ideal. A BMI of more than 25 is considered overweight. A person is considered obese if the BMI is greater than 30 and is considered to have extreme obesity if the BMI is 40 or greater. In general, after the age of 50, a man's weight tends to stay the same and often decreases slightly between ages 60 and 74. In contrast, a woman's weight tends to increase until age 60, and then begins to decrease.

Obesity can also be measured by waist-to-hip ratio. This is a measurement tool that looks at the amount of fat on your waist, compared with the amount of fat on your hips and buttocks. The waist circumference tells the amount of abdominal fat. Increased abdominal fat is associated with type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and heart disease. A waist circumference of more than 40 inches in men and more than 35 inches in women may increase the risk for heart disease and other diseases tied to being overweight.

Talk with your health care provider if you have questions about healthy body weight.

What causes obesity?

In many ways, obesity is a puzzling disease. Experts don't know exactly how your body regulates your weight and body fat. What they do know is that a person who eats more calories than he or she uses for energy each day will gain weight.

But the risk factors that determine obesity can be complex. They are usually a combination of your genes, socioeconomic factors, metabolism, and lifestyle choices. Some endocrine disorders, diseases, and medications may also affect a person's weight.

Factors that may affect obesity include:

Health effects of obesity

Obesity has a far-ranging negative effect on health. Each year in the U.S., obesity-related conditions cost more than $100 billion and cause premature deaths. The health effects linked with obesity include: