There's a disconnect among American dieters: Everyone knows its not healthy to carry around a lot of extra weight, but we get fatter every year. The percentage of U.S. adults reported to be obese was 25.6 in 2007, up 2% from 2005. Obesity can worsen asthma and even boost the risk of certain types of cancer. Obese smokers are at very high risk of early death. And in perhaps one of the most eye-opening studies, researchers found that obese children have as much plaque in their neck arteries as middle-aged adults.
“Two-thirds of adults are overweight,” says Marc Jacobson, MD, a professor of adolescent medicine and epidemiology at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York and a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics Task Force on Obesity.
Its not just about losing the weight, but keeping it off. “The people who take it off and keep it off monitor their weight regularly, exercise regularly, and continue to pay attention to what theyre eating,” he says. “Id like to see [more people] develop the day-to-day behaviors that allow you to keep weight off. That would be good modeling for kids.”
It's critical for adults and kids to pay more attention to their weight. A common way to assess if someone is overweight or obese is the body mass index (BMI). Using height and weight, BMI estimates the amount of body fat.
- A BMI of less than 18.5 is underweight
- A BMI of 18.5–24.9 is normal
- A BMI of 25–29.9 is overweight
- A BMI of 30 or higher is obese
To see if your BMI is in the healthy range, use our BMI calculator. However, because BMI doesn't differentiate between lean muscle mass and body fat, athletic individuals with a lot of muscle may have an overestimated BMI. Other indicators, such as waist circumference, can also help determine obesity.
Though a high BMI isn't the only risk factor for chronic diseases (lifestyle factors such as smoking play a role), there are several diseases and conditions associated with high BMI. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, they include:
- Coronary artery disease
- Type 2 diabetes (almost 90% of people diagnosed are overweight)
- Cancers (breast, colon, and endometrial)
- High blood pressure (people who are obese have a two to three times greater risk than people with a healthy BMI)
- Dyslipidemia (for example, high total cholesterol or high levels of triglycerides)
- Liver and gallbladder disease
- Sleep apnea and respiratory problems (77% of older adults who are obese report some kind of sleep problem, according to a 2003 National Sleep Foundation poll)
- Gynecological problems (infertility, for example)
Being overweight affects your body, but it can also affect your social life and career. Biased attitudes toward obese patients have been documented among health care professionals; these include perceptions that obese patients are dumb, unsuccessful, overindulgent, and lazy. Your size can even hurt your paycheck or your chances of marrying.
And obesity isn't cheap. New research shows that obesity costs the nation an extra $123 billion each year. Overweight and obese individuals incur direct costs such as preventive, diagnostic, and treatment services related to obesity. But they also cause indirect costs to employers relating to decreased productivity, restricted activity, and absenteeism.
Obesity, however, can be prevented. To learn tips and tricks for maintaining a healthy weight, visit our diet and fitness channel.