Explore the 10 defining characteristics of obesity, from symptoms to health consequences. Learn how obesity impacts lives globally.
Obesity and overweight are two important chronic diseases that affect a significant proportion of the world population in these times. In both cases, the human body accumulates a greater amount of body fat or adipose tissue than recommended; In the case of obesity, this accumulation is more intense in terms of body mass index and has a characteristic location, at waist height. Obesity is associated with a higher incidence of illness and death (morbidity and mortality).
Recall that the human body is composed of different types of tissues (in quantitative terms the bone and muscle are the main), which added to the viscera and fluids contribute to body weight.
While many people manage to maintain their body weight approximately constant, certain alterations in the hormonal and biochemical mechanisms that govern it, along with problems of life habits, can lead to a mismatch and cause weight gain in certain individuals.
Characteristics Of Obesity
1. Symptoms and Consequences
- Excessive Body Fat: Obesity is primarily defined by an excessive amount of adipose tissue (body fat), which can be visually evident as significant weight gain.
- Increased BMI: As mentioned earlier, a BMI of 30 or higher is indicative of obesity.
- Physical Fatigue: Obese individuals may experience physical fatigue more easily due to the extra weight they carry, which puts additional strain on their muscles and joints.
- Shortness of Breath: Obesity can lead to shortness of breath, especially during physical activity, as the excess body fat can compress the chest and limit lung capacity.
- Joint Pain: The added weight from excess fat can lead to joint pain and increase the risk of conditions like osteoarthritis.
- Sleep Problems: Obstructive sleep apnea is common in obese individuals, where excess fat can obstruct the airway during sleep, leading to disrupted breathing and poor sleep quality.
Consequences of Obesity:
- Increased Risk of Chronic Diseases: Obesity is a major risk factor for several chronic diseases, including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, hypertension (high blood pressure), and certain types of cancer.
- Metabolic Syndrome: Obesity often coexists with metabolic syndrome, a cluster of conditions including high blood sugar, high blood pressure, abnormal cholesterol levels, and excess abdominal fat, which collectively increase the risk of cardiovascular disease.
- Fatty Liver Disease: Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is common in obese individuals and can lead to liver inflammation and scarring.
- Psychological Impact: Obesity can have a profound psychological impact, leading to low self-esteem, depression, anxiety, and body image issues.
- Reduced Quality of Life: Obesity can limit an individual’s ability to engage in physical activities, travel comfortably, and perform everyday tasks, reducing their overall quality of life.
- Social Stigma: Obese individuals often face social discrimination and stigma, which can lead to further psychological distress and social isolation.
- Economic Burden: Obesity places a significant economic burden on healthcare systems due to the costs associated with treating obesity-related illnesses and their complications.
It’s important to note that obesity is a complex condition influenced by a combination of genetic, environmental, behavioral, and metabolic factors. Effective management and prevention strategies often involve a multidisciplinary approach, including lifestyle changes, dietary modifications, physical activity, and, in some cases, medical intervention. If you or someone you know is struggling with obesity, it’s important to seek guidance and support from healthcare professionals.
2. Types of obesity
Obesity is typically categorized based on various factors, including its underlying causes, distribution of body fat, and associated health risks. Here are some common types of obesity:
- Primary (or Simple) Obesity: This is the most common type of obesity and is primarily caused by an imbalance between calorie intake and expenditure. It results from consuming more calories than the body burns off over an extended period.
- Secondary Obesity: Secondary obesity is caused by underlying medical conditions or medications. Medical conditions such as hypothyroidism, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), and certain genetic syndromes can lead to weight gain. Medications like corticosteroids, antidepressants, and antipsychotics can also contribute to secondary obesity.
- Android (Central) Obesity: Android obesity, also known as central obesity or abdominal obesity, is characterized by the accumulation of fat predominantly around the abdominal region. This type of obesity is associated with an increased risk of metabolic syndrome, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes.
- Gynoid (Peripheral) Obesity: Gynoid obesity is characterized by the accumulation of fat in the hip and thigh area. It is more common in women and is typically considered less harmful to health than central obesity. However, it can still contribute to joint problems and affect body image.
- Visceral Obesity: Visceral fat is the fat that surrounds internal organs, particularly in the abdominal cavity. It is associated with a higher risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and metabolic syndrome. Visceral obesity is closely related to central obesity.
- Childhood Obesity: This type of obesity refers to excessive body fat in children and adolescents. Childhood obesity can lead to various health problems, and it often persists into adulthood if not addressed.
- Morbid Obesity: Morbid obesity is a severe form of obesity characterized by a very high BMI (usually 40 or higher) and significant health risks. It is associated with a substantially increased risk of obesity-related health conditions and may require medical or surgical interventions.
- Adolescent Obesity: This type of obesity specifically affects teenagers and adolescents. It can have long-term consequences for their physical and mental health, including an increased risk of developing obesity-related diseases later in life.
- Elderly Obesity: As people age, they may experience changes in body composition, including increased fat mass. Elderly obesity can be associated with mobility issues and an increased risk of falls.
- Metabolically Healthy Obesity: Some individuals classified as obese may have normal metabolic profiles, such as blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol levels. However, even in these cases, obesity can still pose long-term health risks.
It’s important to note that obesity is a complex and multifactorial condition. Many individuals may exhibit characteristics of more than one type of obesity, and the classification of obesity can vary depending on the criteria and guidelines used by healthcare professionals. Treatment and management strategies for obesity often depend on its specific type and underlying causes, making personalized care crucial.
3. Global impact
Obesity has a significant global impact on various aspects of society, including public health, economies, and quality of life. Its prevalence has been steadily increasing worldwide, making it a major health concern. Here are some key ways in which obesity has a global impact:
- Public Health Crisis: Obesity is considered a global public health crisis. It is linked to a wide range of chronic health conditions, including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, certain types of cancer, and respiratory disorders. These health issues contribute to increased morbidity and mortality rates.
- Economic Burden: The economic burden of obesity is substantial. Healthcare costs related to treating obesity and its associated health conditions are enormous. Additionally, absenteeism from work and decreased productivity due to obesity-related health problems can have a negative impact on economies.
- Reduced Life Expectancy: Obesity is associated with a shorter life expectancy. It reduces the quality and length of life for affected individuals, leading to increased healthcare costs and a greater demand for medical services.
- Childhood Obesity: Childhood obesity is a global concern with long-term consequences. Obese children are more likely to become obese adults, leading to a cycle of obesity that perpetuates across generations.
- Social and Psychological Impact: Obesity can lead to social stigma and discrimination, causing psychological distress and a decreased quality of life. Affected individuals may experience depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem.
- Increased Healthcare Costs: Treating obesity-related conditions requires extensive healthcare resources, including hospitalizations, surgeries, and medications. These costs place a burden on healthcare systems and can limit access to care for other health issues.
- Food Industry and Marketing: The global food industry plays a role in promoting unhealthy food choices through marketing and the availability of highly processed, calorie-dense foods. This contributes to the obesity epidemic.
- Environmental Impact: Obesity can have indirect environmental impacts. The production of unhealthy, calorie-dense foods often relies on resource-intensive agricultural practices, contributing to greenhouse gas emissions and environmental degradation.
- Health Disparities: Obesity is not evenly distributed among populations. Certain demographic groups, such as lower-income individuals and minorities, are disproportionately affected by obesity and its associated health disparities.
- Globalization and Urbanization: Changes in dietary habits and reduced physical activity associated with globalization and urbanization have contributed to the rise in obesity worldwide. Access to high-calorie, processed foods has increased, while physical activity levels have decreased.
Addressing the global impact of obesity requires multifaceted approaches, including public health initiatives, policy changes, education, and community-based interventions. Strategies may include promoting healthier diets, encouraging physical activity, reducing the marketing of unhealthy foods to children, and improving healthcare access and quality for individuals affected by obesity. Recognizing and addressing the global impact of obesity is crucial for improving public health and well-being on a global scale.
The best way to prevent obesity is food education. The human being must know what is the role of food in his life, and that it is important to adapt the intake to the metabolic needs of each moment of life.
The body mass index (BMI) is a simple indicator that establishes a relationship between the weight of people in kilos and their height or height in meters, squared (kg / m2).
A numerical data emerges, which is what the World Health Organization (WHO) has adopted to define obesity and differentiate it from overweight: when this value is equal to or greater than 30, the individual is considered obese; when this value is between 25 and 29, it is considered that there is overweight. Today there is a tendency to consider also the waist-hip circumference index, which is the abdominal circumference divided by the gluteal circumference.
6. Levels of seriousness
Although obesity should always be treated as an important disease, the therapeutic approach distinguishes common obesity from the so-called morbid obesity, which is the case of people whose body mass index is equal to or greater than 40, or equal or greater. of 35 but who already have associated at least one illness or serious disability derived from excess weight.
In morbid obesity, diets alone usually do not have an effect, so surgery is usually resorted to, either resectional or restrictive (for example, gastric bypass).
7. Caloric imbalance
The marked imbalance between caloric intake and caloric expenditure is what most contributes to the appearance of overweight and This is linked to a generalized trend towards dietary change, with a marked increase in the intake of high calorie foods, too rich in fat and sugars, to the detriment of the consumption of products of vegetable origin, which provide vitamins and minerals.
On the other hand, the decrease in physical activity associated with increasing urbanization and sedentary habits exacerbates this problem, which is seen more and more frequently in children and adults.
8. Psychological components
Epidemiological studies have established that the variable self-esteem is a determining factor in the problem of obesity, and that low self-esteem is a cause and at the same time a consequence of excess weight, which marks the need for an integral approach, also addressing psychological issues and emotional, when facing the treatment of this condition.
Given the high morbidity associated with obesity, countries are forced to incur significant expenses to care for these patients.
10. Social life
Often the obese girl or boy feels that her image does not respond to the aesthetic prototype of her peers, that generates a vicious circle of isolation and frustration, which can aggravate the symptoms of obesity.