Want to know what obesity and the body mass index?

We asked the National Institutes of Health for answers to basic questions.

We know: All About Obesity

What does obesity mean?

Health professionals define "overweight" as an excess amount of body weight that includes muscle, bone, fat, and water. "Obesity" specifically refers to an excess amount of body fat.

What amount of body fat is defined as obese?

Most health care providers agree that men with more than 25 percent body fat and women with more than 30 percent body fat are obese. In recent years, body mass index (BMI) has become the medical standard used to measure overweight and obesity.

What is the body mass index?

BMI uses a mathematical formula based on a person's height and weight. BMI equals weight in kilograms divided by height in meters squared (BMI = kg/m2).

The BMI table that follows has already calculated this information in inches and pounds. A BMI of 25 to 29.9 indicates a person is overweight. A person with a BMI of 30 or higher is considered obese.

Find your weight on the bottom of the graph. Go straight up from that point until you come to the line that matches your height. Then look to find your weight group.

What causes obesity?

Obesity occurs when we consume more calories than we burn. What causes this imbalance between calories in and calories out may differ from one person to another.

Factors that contribute to obesity are:

  1. Genes. Science shows that heredity is linked to obesity.
  2. Environment. Lifestyle behaviors such as what a person eats and his or her level of physical activity strongly influence obesity.
  3. Psychology. Up to 10 percent of people who are mildly obese and try to lose weight on their own or through commercial weight loss programs have binge eating disorder. This disorder is even more common in people who are severely obese.
  4. Other causes. Some illnesses can lead to gain weight, including hypothyroidism, Cushing's syndrome, depression, and certain neurological problems that can lead to overeating. Also, drugs such as steroids and some antidepressants may cause weight gain.

What are the common treatments for obesity?

Treatment may include a combination of diet, exercise, behavior modification, and sometimes weight-loss drugs. In some cases of severe obesity, gastrointestinal surgery may be recommended.

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