Understanding
obesity

A new take on the way we view weight

How your body gains or loses weight can be hard to figure out. But the causes and challenges of obesity are becoming clearer.

The rate of people in the United States living with the challenges of obesity and excess weight is 42.4%.1 Obesity is a chronic metabolic disease defined as a body mass index (BMI) ≥ 30.2

As obesity progresses, the body’s weight regulation mechanism breaks down. This breakdown triggers powerful metabolic changes that make it nearly impossible to maintain a healthy weight.

Breaking the obesity stigma

Obesity challenges go beyond your metabolic system. Weight bias and stigma play an equally important role in how obesity is treated.

What causes obesity?
It’s probably not what you think.

Myth: Obesity is caused by poor personal choices.
Truth:
Although widely recognized as a chronic disease, obesity is influenced by multiple factors, many of which are not within our control.3-4 Obesity is more complex than a simple balance of exercise and caloric intake. There are significantly more contributors to obesity, such as:

man on bridge

Obesity Contributors

  • Medications

  • Geographic location

  • Early life experiences

  • Socioeconomic status

  • Stress or mood disorders

  • Physical and intellectual disabilities
  • Genetics

  • Disrupted sleep

  • Neurotransmitters

  • Cheap, energy-dense foods

  • Obesogenic environment

  • Hormonal and metabolic mechanisms

Myth: Weight loss is as simple as exercising more.
Truth: When you lose weight and try to keep it off, changes occur to the hormones in your body that manage your weight.5-6 The result is you have to eat even less and exercise even more to get the same results.7-8

Myth: Obesity is caused by a lack of effort or will power.
Truth: Studies in twins raised separately and in adopted children show that 50–80% of a person’s chance of having obesity is inherited.9

Myth: Obesity is something you must manage alone.
Truth: No one should have to treat a serious disease without help.

The risks of obesity

The longer you live with obesity, the greater the negative effect on your general health and well-being.10 If left untreated, obesity increases the risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, heart failure, joint pain, and kidney disease.​11

Beyond physical health risks, obesity can negatively impact self-esteem and quality of life.12

That’s why obesity is serious enough to be treated right away — because the health issues can continue to build up.

To make the changes you need, it’s important to understand the risks of obesity:13

Body illustration
  • High blood pressure

  • High LDL cholesterol, low HDL 
    cholesterol or high levels of triglycerides

  • Type 2 diabetes

  • Coronary heart disease

  • Stroke

  • Dementia

  • Alzheimer’s disease 
  • Gallbladder disease

  • Osteoarthritis

  • Sleep apnea

  • Many types of cancer

  • Low quality of life

  • Body pain

  • Difficulty with
    physical functioning

Does obesity increase my COVID-19 risk?

Obesity is on the list of pre-existing conditions that put people at greater risk for getting severely ill from COVID-19.14

  • Chronic kidney disease
  • COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease)
  • Obesity (BMI of 30 or higher)
  • Immunocompromised state (weakened immune system) from solid organ transplant
  • Serious heart condition, such as heart failure, coronary artery disease, or cardiomyopathies
  • Sickle cell disease
  • Type 2 diabetes

Obesity doesn't have to be a permanent condition (for some, it is). And when you treat obesity successfully, you increase your chance of reducing COVID-19 complications.14 It also may lower other risks, including Type 2 diabetes, cancer, and heart disease.14


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1

CDC. Defining Adult Overweight & Obesity. https://www.cdc.gov/obesity/adult/defining.html. Update June 2021.

2

World Health Organization (WHO). Obesity. WHO website. https://www.who.int/health-topics/obesity. Accessed Nov 29, 2021.

3

Caterson I, Alfadda A, Auerbach P, et al. Gaps to bridge: Misalignment between perception, reality and actions in obesity. Diabetes Obes Metab. 2019 Aug;21(8):1914-1924. 

4

National Institute of Child Health & human Development (NICHD). What causes obesity & overweight? NICHD website.

5

Das B, Khan O. The myths of obesity. Int J Surg 2019; 68: 114–16.Sumithran P and Proietto J. The defence of body weight: a physiological basis for weight regain after weight loss. Clin Sci 2103; 124: 231–41. 

6

Fothergill E, Guo J, Howard L, et al. Persistent Metabolic Adaptation 6 Years After “The Biggest Loser” Competition. Obesity 2016; 24(8): 1612–19.

7

Dhurandhar N. Stop the patient blame game: what actually causes obesity. Available at https://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/909500. Accessed September 2019.

8

Sumithran P and Proietto J. The defense of body weight: a physiological basis for weight regain after weight loss. Clin Sci 2103; 124: 231–41.

9

Brandkvist M, et al, Quantifying the impact of genes on body mass index during the obesity epidemic: longitudinal findings from the HUNT Study. BMJ 2019;366:1406712.

10

RACGP. Obesity prevention and management position statement 2019. Available at https://www.racgp.org.au/FSDEDEV/media/documents/RACGP/Position%20statements/Obesity-prevention-and-management.pdf, accessed September 2019.

11

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Health risks of overweight & obesity. NIH website. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/weight-management/adult-overweight-obesity/health-risks. Accessed Nov. 29, 2021.

12

Pimenta F, Bertrand E, Mograbi D, Shinohara H, Fernandez J. The relationship between obesity and quality of life in Brazilian adults. Front Psychol. 2015;6:966.

13

ASMBS, The Impact of Obesity on Your Body and Your Health. ASMBS Website. https://asmbs.org/patients/impact-of-obesity Accessed December 6, 2021.

14

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Obesity, Race/Ethnicity, and COVID-19. https://www.cdc.gov/obesity/data/obesity-and-covid-19.html. Updated Nov. 8, 2021. Accessed Nov. 29, 2021.

Information on this site should not be used as a substitute for talking with your doctor. Always talk with your doctor about diagnosis and treatment information.

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