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What Is Obesity?


Obesity is a major health concern for many people around the world, especially in Western countries like the United States. It’s also a hot topic for doctors and patients to discuss—but what, exactly, is obesity?

Obesity is based on your ideal body weight which can vary from person to person. It is generally calculated using your height and weight to determine your Body Mass Index (BMI). Most likely your primary care physician or heart specialist will calculate your BMI for you and determine what range you fall into. Ratio numbers from 18.5-25 are considered ideal, with ranges of 25-29.9 classified as overweight, and over 30 as obese. Numbers over 30 are also broken down into severe obesity and extreme obesity.

So, what do these numbers really mean? There are a few different BMI calculators out there and your number and range might vary slightly depending on which you use, but this index generally represents the ratio of weight to height. While this is a good starting indicator to determine whether you are carrying too much weight or not, it does not take into account things like muscle mass, so athletes may have higher BMI numbers when, in reality, they have very low fat percentages.

According to U.S. News, in 2010 alone more than 78 million Americans were obese, and nearly two-thirds of the U.S. population is at least overweight, if not obese. Those are staggering numbers, which have only gone up in the eight years since these numbers were published.

Is My Weight a Health Concern?

With so many diet ads, New Year’s resolutions, and magazine covers telling you how to lose weight fast or which new weight loss fad is hitting the market, you may be confused about what to do about weight loss, why you should lose weight, and what a healthy weight looks like for you. First, you need to determine if your weight is an issue.

Aside from the BMI calculation mentioned above, there are other indicators that you may want to look for. Another way to calculate obesity is measuring your waist circumference. This can be done by you or your primary care physician. The general guidelines are, for men, a waist measuring over 40 inches is a problem. For women, a problematic waist measurement would be  over 35 inches. Again, this measurement alone cannot determine your specific risks associated with obesity, but it is a good place to start.

hand hold a measuring tape

Obesity can also cause inflammation in your body, so you may notice your joints being a little stiffer and achier, and flare-ups similar to arthritis may become more prominent. You may also notice you have a harder time breathing when doing activities like climbing stairs or even walking your dog. Even headaches and fatigue can be the result of being overweight or obese.

Obesity can also put a strain on your organs, especially your heart.

How Does Obesity Affect the Heart?

One of the most important organs in the human body is the heart. Obesity can cause these issues for your heart:

  • High blood pressure: Also known as hypertension, high blood pressure indicates how hard your blood is pushing against the interior of your arteries. Larger bodies that are overweight or obese may have high blood pressure because the heart has to work harder to pump blood throughout the body.
  • Cholesterol issues: People who are overweight are more likely to have high levels of “bad” cholesterol and lower levels of “good” cholesterol than patients with an ideal body weight. While your body needs cholesterol, it can also build up in the arteries and create blockages.
  • Heart disease: This is caused when one or several blood vessels narrow and harden, restricting blood flow to and from the heart. Since this impacts how well the heart functions, heart disease can cause heart attacks, chest pain, heart failure, and abnormal heart rhythms. According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), heart disease is the number-one cause of deaths in the United States. High blood sugar, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol are all causes of cardiovascular disease.
  • Insulin resistance: Insulin, which is a hormone naturally produced by the body, moves sugar (glucose) into the cells from the blood to be used for energy. If the body becomes insulin resistant, more sugar stays in the blood instead of moving to cells, which leads to higher glucose levels in the blood. This can result in pre-diabetes and, if not treated, eventually, diabetes.
  • Diabetes: Type 2 diabetes is the result of high blood sugar. While not necessarily a result of obesity, its contributing factors include having a larger waist circumference, a sedentary lifestyle, and poor dietary choices. Some people are more genetically predisposed to diabetes than others.
  • Heart failure: This is a major complication of obesity. According to U.S. News, people who are severely obese (BMI over 35), are four times more likely to suffer from heart failure than those at their ideal body weight. Heart failure can start subtly starts with shortness of breath and swelling in the feet, but it can quickly lead to death. Heart failure is a result of the heart working harder to pump blood throughout the body, which is increased in bodies that are overweight or obese. Over time, this extra work the heart is doing changes how the heart looks and functions, eventually causing the heart to no longer work at all.

What Can I Do to Prevent Damaging My Heart?

woman walking tree lined trail early autumn morning

While complications and obesity-related diseases may seem extreme, there are many things you can do to offset and prevent them.

  • Lose weight: Yes, this is the most obvious thing, but weight loss doesn’t have to be a monumental task, as even minimal weight loss can have huge positive impacts on your body, including lowering cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar. Meeting with your doctor or a nutritionist can help you get your eating on track and give you the guidance you need to lose weight safely.
  • Move your body: Activity levels are a huge indicator in a person’s risk of obesity and obesity-related health issues. Again, this doesn’t mean you have to take up mountain climbing or marathon running. Taking a daily walk, swimming, playing with your dog, and even lawn maintenance all count as being active. If you are struggling with activity due to your weight or a disability, your doctor or a personal trainer should be able to guide you toward movement you can do safely.
  • See your doctor: This one is crucial. It’s easy to wait until things are bad to seek help, but by then the damage might already be done. Your heart specialist or primary care physician can oversee tests and determine whether your results are indicators for obesity-related diseases. There are many procedures, including heart bypass surgery and cardiac surgery, that can increase your well-being if your results show blockages or damage.

If you think obesity is affecting your health and aren’t sure what to do next, contact the specialists at Crystal Run Healthcare by calling 1-845-703-6999 to schedule an appointment today.