Being obese is not about what you weigh, it's about having too much fat in your body. Carrying too much body fat has harmful effects on your health. (See Your Health and Your Weight.) One-third of adults ages 20 and older are considered obese, which is defined as having a body mass index greater than 30. (See Understanding Body Mass Index.)
As is the case with adults, obesity in children is rising. And like adults, kids who are obese are at a much greater risk for health problems now and later in life. Studies have found obese children are much more likely to be obese as adults. If a child is overweight before age 8, his or her chance of more severe obesity during adulthood goes up.
Causes of Obesity
There are many reasons for obesity. While its cause is certainly tied to an imbalance of calories taken in versus calories burned through physical activity, it also can be affected by:
- Family history and genes
- Medications. Some antidepressants, anti-seizure medications, diabetes medications, steroids and beta blockers may cause weight gain.
- Social networks and economics. Research suggests people may be at greater risk for being overweight or obese if their friends are; other data shows people at lower economic levels have a greater chance of being obese.
- Lifestyle habits, eating behaviors and stress.
- Too little sleep. This can affect hormones that increase appetite.
- Medical problems, such as hypothyroidism, Prader-Willi and polycystic ovary syndrome.
Approach to Weight Loss
Weight loss therapy should be based on three components:
- Physical activity
- Behavior therapy (such as recognizing triggers for eating or learning to pinpoint obstacles that hold you back from making lifestyle changes)
This combination has been found to be more successful than using any one intervention alone.
Healthy Eating Plan
Many people have found long-term success by working with a registered dietitian. Because no two people are alike, approaches to weight loss must be tailored to each person. An RD can do this for you. She or he will create a plan based on your medical history, lifestyle and food preferences. Together, you can explore how your habits, emotions and environmental cues affect how you eat. Use the Find a Registered Dietitian tool to locate an RD in your area.
Your weight loss plan also will include a discussion on:
No weight loss effort can work long-term without a close and constant look at the calories you eat each day. Your goal should be to establish a new balance between calories in and calories out (burned through physical activity).
The protein you eat supports your muscles. It is important to get enough protein and exercise to keep—and even grow—muscle strength and mass. Foods rich in protein such as meats, fish, low-fat and fat-free dairy foods, nuts and beans are also satisfying. When part of a well-planned diet, they can delay hunger and keep you feeling full longer.
Foods rich in fiber such as whole fruits, vegetables, beans and whole grains tend to offer plenty of vitamins and minerals without plenty of calories. High-fiber foods satisfy hunger and keep you feeling full longer than processed foods. They are tasty, nutritious "filler foods."
- Eating a Variety of Foods.
A healthful weight loss plan includes a variety of foods from all the food groups: fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy and meat and beans, plus a moderate amount of healthy fats.
- Tools for Reducing Calories.
Meal replacement drinks, bars or packaged meals may be an effective starting point for your weight loss journey. If these options are a good fit for you, your registered dietitian will guide you on choices that will meet your nutrient needs while cutting calories.
Before taking anything beyond a daily multivitamin, which offers no more the 100 percent of the Daily Value of each nutrient, talk with your registered dietitian. Most healthy people can get all the nutrients they need from food. Supplements advertised for containing weight loss benefits may actually be harmful to your health.
Reviewed December 2012