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Defining Obesity


Obesity is a life-threatening disease affecting millions of Americans. Half of all Americans are overweight and about 31.4% of adults in the United States are obese, which causes various related illnesses and health problems such as:

  • Premature death
  • Stroke
  • Heart disease
  • Hypertension
  • Type-2 Diabetes
  • Respiratory problems
  • Sleep apnea
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Joint pain
  • Cancer

The good news is that by losing weight, you can improve, prevent, or lower your risk for these weight-related health conditions.

The most common measurement of obesity is the Body Mass Index (BMI). While your BMI doesn't measure actual body fat, it tends to correlate well with the degree of obesity. It should not be used alone for diagnosis but can be useful as a general guideline.

You can also calculate your BMI using the following calculation:

BMI = [Weight in pounds ÷ height in inches2] x 703

Below are the obesity categories adopted in 1998 by the National Institute of Health (NIH)2.

BMI Classification2 Level of Health Risk
18.5-24.9 Normal Weight Minimal/Low
25-29.9 Overweight Increased
30-34.9 Obese High
35-39.9 Severely Obese Very High
40 and up Morbidly Obese Extremely High

Causes of Obesity

Obesity is not a sign that a person is out of control. It is a complex, chronic disease. Many things can contribute to this condition, such as:

  • Energy balance - your body may take too much energy from food - more than what your body needs can lead to weight gain. This depends on your level of activity and your metabolism.
  • Heredity - you have a higher risk of obesity if it runs in your family.
  • Metabolic disorders - if your body's metabolism changes, it may affect your energy balance and weight.
  • Eating and social habits - An unbalanced diet, snacking between meals and too little exercise can all lead to obesity.
  • Psychological factors - Social and emotional eating are among the main causes of excessive weight gain.

Any one or a combination of these factors can lead to obesity. Inherited conditions can't be changed, but you have the power to change your behavior patterns and improve your own health and well-being.

The Costs of Obesity

The national cost of this disease is very high. Based on 1998 estimates, annual medical costs to treat patients who are overweight and obese were approximately 79 billion, or 93 billion in 2002 dollars. The healthcare cost burden of being obese now rivals that of smoking.5

The personal cost of living with obesity can also be significant. Consider what you might spend on the following items:

Out of pocket healthcare expenses include:

  • Over-the-counter medication costs
  • Co-pays for doctor office visits
  • Co-pays for lab work
  • Co-pays for specialists
  • Co-pays for physical therapists/allied health professionals
  • Prescription co-pays
  • Employment inactivity costs (days of missed work)
  • Non-surgical weight loss programs (such as WeightWatchers® or Jenny Craig®)
  • Grocery and dining costs

These expenditures quickly add up. You may find that dramatic weight loss can greatly reduce your weight related costs.



2. National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. Clinical guidelines on the identification, evaluation, and treatment of overweight and obesity in adults. National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute Web site. Available here.. Accessed April 2006.