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What is Obesity?
By Phyllis Brown   View more articles by this author
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February 24

If a person’s bodyweight is at least 20% higher than it should be, a person is generally considered to be obese. If your Body Mass Index (BMI) is between 25 and 29.9, you are considered overweight.  If your BMI is 30 or over, you are considered obese.

What is Body Mass Index (BMI)?

The BMI is a statistical measurement obtained from your height and weight.  Although it is a useful way to estimate healthy body weight, it is not an accurate measurement for everyone.  Since it measures height and weight to provide the BMI reading, percentage of body fat or lean muscle is not taken into consideration. Therefore, one’s BMI is a useful measurement for the “average person”. 

Why do people become obese?

1.    Consuming too many calories.  People are eating much more than they used to eat.  Despite billions of dollars being spent on public awareness campaigns that encourage people to eat healthier, the majority of us continue to overeat.  In 1980 14% of the adult population of the US was obese; by 200 the figure reached 31% and currently the estimates are that over 50% of the US population is obese. 

Since 1971, the consumption of calories has increased by several hundred per day in the US.  Most of the increased food consumption has consisted of sugars.  Increased consumption of sweetened drinks has contributed significantly to the rising sugar intake of most American adults over the last 30 years.  The consumption of fast-foods has tripled over the same time period.

Other factors contributing to America’s increased calorie and sugar consumption include:


  • In 1984 the limits on advertising sweets and fast food was lifted by the Reagan administration.
  • Agriculture policies in most of the developed world have led to cheaper foods and more availability.
  • The US Farm Bill allowed the source of processed foods to come from subsidized wheat, corn and rice. Wheat, corn and rice have become much cheaper than fruits and vegetables.

2.    Leading a sedentary lifestyle.  The less you move around, the fewer calories you burn.  Physical activity also has an effect on how your hormones work…especially insulin levels.  High levels of insulin are closely associated with weight gain.

3.    Not getting adequate sleep.  If you do not sleep enough, your risk of becoming obese doubles.

4.    Lower rates of smoking.  While quitting smoking is a good thing, most people gain at least 6 to 8 pounds after quitting and some gain 30 pounds or more.

5.    Certain prescription medications can cause weight gain.  This should be discussed with your prescribing physician.

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