Complex condition influenced by genes, environment, economic factors
Obesity has a simple definition yet it is a very complex condition caused by a combination of many factors. Obesity means having too much fat on the body. This happens as a result of food and physical behaviors, but is also influenced by environmental, economic and societal factors—even genetics, lifestyle and a lifetime of behavior.
How we get fat
Fat accumulates on the body as a result of taking in more calories from food than we use through physical activity. Because our diets have changed over the last several decades to include more processed foods, and because we eat out more often, we tend to take in a much higher amount of daily calories than our bodies need to function. Our jobs, often involving sitting behind desks, leave less opportunity for physical activity and less time in the day to work off the caloric intake.
Other lifestyle factors contribute to obesity, such as lack of sleep, which affects hormones that influence our body’s hunger response, as well as stress, which also affects hormones, hunger and fat storage. Science also shows that our bodies undergo genetic changes in response to our environment. Food, sleep, stress and other factors can affect the way our genes signal how the body should store fat, for example.
People most at risk for obesity are often more at risk because of their environment. They may have learned to prepare food in a certain way that is less healthy and others in their family or community also eat this way. Obesity is also more common in people and communities that are economically disadvantaged. Purchasing processed and high-calorie food is often cheaper so people with low income may be less likely to choose healthy options—even if they know what the healthier options are.
Obesity is commonly referred to as an epidemic because of its wide-reaching impact across the globe and because excess body fat contributes to numerous other conditions and diseases.
Having a body mass index (BMI) greater than 30 is considered obese. Use a BMI calculator to figure out your BMI.
Mental and physical health problems linked to obesity
Being obese often means having a number of conditions that are caused by or worsened by obesity, such as:
People who are obese are also at high risk for heart disease and heart attack. Obesity further affects the body’s ability to carry its own weight so joint pain and related conditions are common, as is sexual dysfunction.
Due to the nature of obesity and its impact on quality of life, people often deal with social isolation, poor self-image, depression and anxiety.
Treating obesity with lifestyle changes and medical intervention
First, talk with your primary care doctor about your condition and explore ways to manage your weight. Losing even a small amount of weight can improve your health and reduce certain risks if you are obese. This usually involves a combination of lifestyle changes, such as increasing your physical activity while making significant food adjustments.
If you have struggled with weight loss and weight maintenance or you’ve:
- Gained weight during menopause
- Gained weight after having kids
- Need to lose weight because your doctor advises it
- Want to lose weight because it’s just “time”
- Or for any other reason
Start with the Comprehensive Weight and Wellness Program at Main Line Health with locations in the western suburbs of Philadelphia. We offer medical weight loss solutions overseen by a bariatrician (obesity medicine doctor) with additional services provided by nurses who specialize in medical weight loss, bariatric nutritionists, and behavioral health specialists who are also experts in weight loss and management and associated emotional and psychological support.
For patients who have not been able to lose weight with diet and exercise alone, weight loss surgery may be an option.
At Main Line Health our team includes doctors, nutrition counselors and therapists who are highly experienced in helping improve quality of life and health for people who have obesity.