Understanding Obesity

Contributors: Jill Kohn, MS, RDN, LDN
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Having a body mass index (BMI) that is considered obese is often associated with having too much fat in your body. Carrying too much body fat may have harmful effects on your health, so BMI is used as a screening tool.

More than one-third of U.S. adults have obesity, which is defined as having a BMI greater than 30.

As is the case with adults, the obesity rate among children is too high. Studies have found that children with obesity are much more likely to have obesity as adults and are at a much greater risk for health problems now and later in life.

Causes of Obesity

There are many reasons for obesity. While an imbalance of calories taken in versus calories burned through physical activity may be an influence, obesity can also be affected by:

  • Family history and genes
  • Medications: Some antidepressants, anti-seizure medications, diabetes medications, steroids and beta blockers may cause weight gain
  • Surroundings: Research suggests people may be at greater risk for being overweight or obese if their friends are; other data shows that community environmental factors can contribute to obesity
  • Lifestyle habits, eating behaviors and stress
  • Too little sleep: This can affect hormones that increase appetite
  • Medical problems: Hypothyroidism, Prader-Willi and polycystic ovary syndrome can contribute to obesity.

Approach to Weight Loss

Weight loss therapy for adults should be based on three components:

  1. Calorie-controlled eating plan
  2. Physical activity
  3. 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 nutritionist. Research shows that at least two sessions per month with an RDN lead to successful weight loss and at least one session per month for weight loss maintenance. Because no two people are alike, approaches to weight loss must be tailored to each person. An RDN 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.

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