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Obesity - Part 1
Being obese and being overweight is not exactly the same thing.
An obese person has a large amount of extra body fat, not just a few extra pounds. People who are obese are very overweight and at risk for serious health problems.
To determine if someone is obese, doctors and other health care professionals often use a measurement called body mass index (BMI). First, a doctor measures a person's height and weight. Then the doctor uses these numbers to calculate another number, the BMI.
Once the doctor has calculated a person’s BMI, he or she will plot this number on a specific chart to see how it compares to other people of the same age and gender. A person with a BMI above the 95th percentile (meaning the BMI is greater than that of 95% of people of the same age and gender) is generally considered overweight. A person with a BMI between the 85th and 95th percentiles typically is considered at risk for overweight. Obesity is the term used for extreme overweight. There are some exceptions to this formula, though. For instance, someone who is very muscular (like a bodybuilder) may have a high BMI without being obese because the excess weight is from extra muscle, not fat.
People gain weight when the body takes in more calories than it burns off. Those extra calories are stored as fat. The amount of weight gain that leads to obesity doesn't happen in a few weeks or months. Because being obese is more than just being a few pounds overweight, people who are obese have usually been getting more calories than they need for years.
The number of people who are obese is rising.
In the United States, women are slightly more at risk for becoming obese than men. Race and ethnicity also can be factors - in adolescents, obesity is more common among Mexican Americans and African Americans.
Although there are genetic and hormonal influences on body weight, ultimately excess weight is a result of an imbalance of calories consumed versus calories burned through physical activity. If you consume more calories than you expend through exercise and daily activities, you gain weight. Your body stores calories that you don't need for energy as fat.
The following factors — usually working in combination — can contribute to weight gain and obesity.
Women, especially those older than 50, are more likely to have hypothyroidism than men are. Hypothyroidism seldom causes symptoms in the early stages, but over time, untreated hypothyroidism can cause a number of health problems, such as obesity, joint pain, infertility and heart disease. Cushing's syndrome is a condition that occurs when your body is exposed to high levels of the hormone cortisol for a prolonged period of time. Sometimes called hypercortisolism, Cushing's syndrome can occur when your adrenal glands, located above your kidneys, make too much cortisol. It may also develop if you're taking high doses of cortisol-like medications (corticosteroids) for a prolonged period.
Too much cortisol can produce some of the hallmark signs of Cushing's syndrome — a fatty hump between your shoulders, a rounded face, and pink or purple stretch marks on your skin. It can also result in high blood pressure, bone loss and, on occasion, diabetes
A low metabolic rate is unlikely to cause obesity.
Factors that increase your risk of obesity include:
The most important part of being a normal weight isn't looking a certain way - it's feeling good and staying healthy. Having too much body fat can be harmful to the body in many ways.
Obesity can run in families, but just how much is due to genes is hard to determine. Many families eat the same foods, have the same habits (like snacking in front of the TV), and tend to think alike when it comes to weight issues (like urging children to eat a lot at dinner so they can grow "big and strong"). All of these situations can contribute to weight gain, so it can be difficult to figure out if a person is born with a tendency to be obese or overweight or learns eating and exercise habits that lead to weight gain. In most cases, weight problems arise from a combination of habits and genetic factors.
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