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Obesity 101

What is the Definition of Obesity?

Obesity is defined as having an excess amount of adipose tissue (a.k.a. fat) to the point that it begins to negatively affect one’s health and quality of life.

Although it’s an imperfect measurement, the body mass index (BMI) is the most common way obesity is measured. An individual’s BMI is calculated based on his/her height in relation to their weight. Decades worth of research has proven that the BMI provides a good estimate of how excessive fat correlates with serious medical conditions like diabetes, heart disease, cancer, joint deterioration, along with a decreased quality of life and increased risk of death. An individual’s BMI can be calculated by taking one’s weight (in kilograms) and dividing it by the height squared (in centimeters). Or using this calculator.

Here is the breakdown of BMI classifications:

  • BMI = 18.5-24.9 is considered a healthy weight
  • BMI = 25.0-29.9 is considered overweight
  • BMI = 30-39.9 is considered obese
  • BMI = 40 or greater is considered morbidly obese

So what does it mean to be overweight, obese or morbidly obese?

Fat in and of itself is not bad. In fact, fat cells store more energy than all other types of cells in the body and they are responsible for numerous aspects of cellular activity that are essential for life. However, too much of a good thing can be, well, a bad thing. Excessive fat in the body can start to harm the body and its function in a variety of ways.

One way fat can negatively affect the body is when fat cells release substances that can cause a low level of inflammation. Too much inflammation will cause swelling and harm to numerous organs. Inflammation and swelling of blood vessels can lead to heart attacks and strokes. Swelling and inflammation in the liver and pancreas can interfere with their important functions in the body and ultimately accelerate liver failure…just in case you’ve ever wondered, you can’t live without your liver, so please take care of it!

Too much fat has also been linked the development of certain cancers. Unfortunately, it’s not just a handful. Here are some of the more common cancers shown to be influenced by excess body fat:

  1. Brain cancer
  2. Breast cancer – both in men and women
  3. Ovarian cancer
  4. Endometrial cancer
  5. Colorectal cancer
  6. Cancer of the esophagus
  7. Pancreatic cancer
  8. Liver cancer
  9. Gallbladder cancer
  10. Kidney cancer
  11. Thyroid cancer

The connection between cancer and obesity seems to be related to the inflammation caused by fat cells, along with the way fat cells influence other metabolic processes. As you will read later, fat alters the behavior of hormones and cell growth mechanisms, all factors in cancer growth and development.

As mentioned above, fat cells interfere with a variety of hormones and how your body reacts to them. For example, fat cells affects the absorption of insulin causing improper usage of sugar in the body, eventually leading to more weight gain and so the cycle continues on a downward spiral. Testosterone, human growth hormone, androgens and other hormones can be decreased or increased by excess fat cells and cause mental, emotional and physical problems in males and females alike.

Quality of life is also significantly affected by obesity. Those who are overweight or obese are much more likely to experience arthritis, which is characterized by crippling pain and swelling of the joints. Arthritis is a leading cause of disability and can contribute to even more weight gain, depression and other medical conditions that can limit one’s enjoyment of life, especially if they are constantly in pain and can’t participate in activities that would have otherwise brought them joy.