Diseases & Conditions


ObesityCausesHealth risksMeasuring body fatMedicationsPreventionTreatment

What is Obesity?

Obesity is a chronic condition in which excessive fat gets accumulated in the body leading to an increased risk of developing heart diseases, cancer, difficulty in breathing and diabetes.

Causes of Obesity

  • Diet: Food that is dense in energy typically contains excessive calories. Portion sizes have also increased resulting in overeating. Processed food that is high in simple carbohydrates is often cheaper than vegetables and fruits, forcing people to pick the unhealthy option.
  • Sedentary lifestyle: Advancement in technology has resulted in less labor intensive working conditions. Television viewing has a direct impact on the amount of physical activity in both children and adults.
  • Genetics: Polymorphism in the genes of a person controls the metabolism and appetite and makes the person more vulnerable to obesity if conditions are favorable. Obesity is part of conditions such as Bardet-Biedl syndrome, MOMO syndrome, Cohen syndrome and Prader-Willi syndrome.
  • Illnesses: Certain medical illnesses such as growth hormone deficiency, hypothyroidism, eating disorders and Cushing’s syndrome can cause obesity.
  • Social determinants: In developed countries there is more pressure to remain thin and at the same time it provides more opportunites to be physically fit. In countries that are undeveloped, there are more labor intensive jobs to be done and so a higher percentage of fat in the body works to their advantage.
  • Infectious agents: Although not proven, viral infections have been associated with obesity.
  • Slow metabolism: It is the muscle in the body that burns fat. Men have more muscle than women and also aging results in loss of muscle.
  • Medications: Weight gain is sometimes caused by medications such as steroids, insulin, atypical antipsychotics, sulfonylureas, antidepressants,
  • Cessation of smoking: Smoking decreases appetite making weight gain one of the withdrawal symptoms.
  • Lack of sleep: Sleep deprivation increases appetite due to hormonal changes.

Health risks of Obesity

The risks associated with obesity are enormous affecting almost every part of the body. Some of the potential risks involved are:

  • Degeneration of cartilage and bone(Osteoarthritis)
  • Coronary heart disease
  • Gallbladder disease
  • High BP (Blood pressure) or Hypertension
  • High cholesterol
  • Respiratory problems
  • Several cancers
  • Sleep apnea
  • Stroke
  • Diabetes

Measuring body fat

Measuring body fat is an expensive process requiring trained personnel and special equipment.

  • Underwater weighing- Calculates body fat and muscle mass.
  • BOD POD- Measures density of the whole body
  • DEXA (Dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry) - Calculates fat percentage and indicates how much is located in each part of the body.
  • Skin calipers
  • BIA(Bioelectric impedance analysis)
  • Weight –Height tables
  • BMI(Body mass index)

The last four methods are simple and commonly used.

Medication for Obesity

Currently there is only 1 medication, Orlistat (Xenixal), which is approved and commonly available for use in the long-term. The amount of weight lost is only about 6.4lb (average) though and has side effects associated with the digestive system.

Childhood obesity

Sex and age determines the BMI of a child. Obesity amongst children has gone up in developing and developed nations due to lifestyle changes and food habits. Obesity commonly carries forward into adulthood resulting in chronic illnesses. Treatment for children does not involve any medication but recommends change in behavior and lifestyle.

Prevention of Obesity

Except in cases of genetic disorders, illnesses and obesity resulting from medication, avoiding the causes that lead to obesity will help you to prevent it. The importance of a balanced and healthy diet and physical activity cannot be emphasized enough.

Treatment for Obesity

Lifestyle changes such as following a healthy diet and physical exercise can help to reduce weight and maintain it in the long term. The rate of success in maintaining weight loss using this method has been found to be between two and twenty percent.

A number of medications are available in the market but most of these are not approved by the FDA due the long term effects of these drugs on the human body.

Bariatric surgery has been recognized as one of the best solutions to obesity. A successful surgery can mean increased life expectancy and long term loss of weight. But the risks involved and the high costs work to its disadvantage.