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Obesity, Causes and Effects

More than one-third of American adults are obese;1 another third are overweight. Less than one-third of American adults are at a normal weight. Worldwide, more than 500 million people are obese,2 and obesity is one of the top global risk factors for death.3

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Overweight and Obesity
    http://www.cdc.gov/obesity/index.html. Updated 2012, November 6. Accessed November 9, 2012.
  2. Obesity and Overweight. Fact Sheet No. 311. World Health Organization. Web site.
    http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs311/en/index.html. 2012, May. Accessed November 9, 2012.
  3. Global Health Risks. World Health Organization.
    http://www.who.int/healthinfo/global_burden_disease/global_health_risks/en/index.html. 2009, December. Accessed November 9, 2012.

Causes of Obesity

You gain weight when you eat more calories than your body needs. You need energy, or calories, for normal metabolism and for physical activity. Eating too many calories leads to weight gain and eventually obesity. What can lead to eating more calories than you need?

Too Much Food, Not Enough Exercise

  1. Food, especially high-calorie food, tastes good, so it's hard to stop eating
  2. Turning to food when you're lonely, bored, happy or depressed
  3. High-sugar, high-fat foods can be addictive and cause physical and emotional dependence so that you crave them
  4. The food industry spends billions of dollars per year on advertising to make you want high-calorie food that you don't need
  5. Fast food and convenience stores are everywhere, so you eat even when you're not hungry
  6. Food is part of every party, gathering, meeting and other event in our society. It's hard to escape it!
  7. Ready-to-eat fast food and convenience foods are everywhere and cheap
  8. Not enough exercise. Going to the gym
  9. Sedentary lifestyles. A lot of us have desk jobs and don't move much throughout the day

Other Causes of Obesity

  • Genetics: some people are more likely to store fat when faced with the same diet choices as another person
  • Health conditions, such as hypothyroidism, Cushing's syndrome and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), can lower your metabolism so that you don't need as many calories per day, and eating too much is easy
  • Medications can change your metabolism and cause weight gain

Effects of Obesity

Why is obesity such a problem? It hurts your health and quality of life, and it's expensive. Obesity costs the US $190 billion per year1 in medical expenses, and has additional indirect costs because of lost work productivity. Obese individuals take more sick days and have less energy at work. It can be costing you hundreds or thousands of dollars per year.

Health Effects of Obesity

Obesity kills. It can take 13 years off of your life if you are a young, morbidly obese man 20 to 30 years old with a BMI over 45.2 A woman in that category might live 8 years less than if she were at a healthy weight.

Obesity raises your risk of:

  • Diabetes (Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus) and pre-diabetes
  • Heart disease
  • Risk factors for heart disease, such as high cholesterol and triglycerides
  • High blood pressure (hypertension), which can cause stroke, kidney disease and heart disease
  • Osteoarthritis and joint pain
  • Sleep apnea
  • Asthma
  • Some kinds of cancer

Other Effects of Obesity

It's not just about your health, but also about living a good life. Living with obesity can mean:

  • Missing work and fun times due to illness
  • More trips to the doctor and pharmacy
  • Sitting out of activities with family and friends because you can't keep up or fit in (literally)
  • Being unable to shop in normal clothing stores
  • Depression
  • Feeling embarrassed and being judged because of your looks
  1. Finkelstein E, Trogdon JG, Cohen JW, Dietz W. Annual medical spending attributable to obesity: payer-and service-specific estimates. Health Affairs. 2009;28(5):w822-w831.
  2. Fontaine KR, Redden DT, Wang C, Westfall AO, Allison DB. Years of life lost due to obesity. JAMA, 2003;289(2):187-193.

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