From 1999-2000, an estimated 30.5% of Americans were obese. By 2017-2018, that number had risen to 42.5%, costing those who are obese roughly $US1,429 more in healthcare expenses than people of a normal weight, according to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.
Since obesity is on the rise and related to so many negative health effects, its important that doctors can easily define obesity in order to help patients take control of their health.
We want to come up with a universal way of defining obesity, because different cultures define it differently, says Mir Ali, MD, bariatric surgeon and medical director of MemorialCare Surgical Weight Loss Centre at Orange Coast Medical Centre. So the thing we have that isnt the most accurate, but at least its a common reference point, is the body mass index (BMI).
BMI is the most standard way for doctors and patients to determine if someone is overweight or obese. Its calculated with a formula that takes into account your height and weight and there are many online BMI calculators you can use to easily calculate your own BMI. Heres what you need to know about BMI, its role in determining obesity, and why its not always the best tool.
According to the CDC, a BMI of 25.0 to 29.9 is considered overweight, and a BMI of 30 or above is obese. Additionally, there are three subcategories, or classes, of obesity based on BMI. According to the CDC, Class 1 is a BMI of 30 to 35, Class 2 is a BMI of 35 to 40, and Class 3 is a BMI of 40 or higher.
Someone with a BMI of 40 has a two to three times greater risk of developing obesity related diseases [than someone with a healthy BMI], says Ali, adding that these classes are also important to help doctors decide what kind of treatment is necessary.
If you have a BMI greater than 40, then you could qualify for bariatric surgery. Whereas, if you have a BMI between 30 and 40 and have struggled to lose weight through diet and exercise, your doctor may prescribe a diet pill to aid weight loss.
However, BMI is not a be all end all to measure obesity. For example, a high BMI doesnt always mean obesity. The BMI calculation doesnt take into account anybodys body composition, and that can affect how healthy they are. A 300-pound bodybuilder with 5% body fat [may be] healthy, but if you plug him into the BMI formula, he [will] come out obese, says Ali.
Aside from BMI, there are a few other more accurate ways to measure obesity and the risk of obesity-related disease:
While this one is very accurate, Ali says it isnt readily available to the general public, and its expensive. The test usually isnt offered at typical X-Ray/imaging centres, and most people dont actually require this precise level of accuracy to make treatment choices.
Being obese does not automatically mean you are unhealthy. The importance of exercise in obese people has been extensively researched.
For example, a study published in BMC Obesity in 2018, showed that somebody who is severely obese but very active can be as healthy as someone who is moderately obese and does not exercise very much. Additionally, a 2017 study published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology concluded that obese people who regularly worked out had less risk of cardiovascular disease than obese people who were inactive.
The less active you are as an obese person, the more likely youll be to develop health issues, says Ali. Activity helps keep your cardiovascular health strong, helps to reduce your risk of degenerative changes in the joints, and other health issues, so activity is important.
Fitness is so important for health because it helps prevent the build-up of visceral fat, which lies beneath the abdominal muscles surrounding vital organs like the liver, intestines, and stomach. Visceral fat is one of the biggest risk factors in obese people for developing health problems.
If you are obese or think you may be obese, its important to keep active and eat healthily to avoid the complications that can be caused by obesity. Speak to your doctor or an obesity specialist to get on the right track.
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