What is obesity?
Simply put, obesity is an excess of body fat for a given height and gender.
Specifically, anyone with a Body Mass Index (BMI: weight in kilograms divided by the square of your height in metres)
over 30 is classed as obese and a a BMI between 25 - 30 is classed as overweight.
Obesity tends to run in families, suggesting that genetics is a factor. However other factors, such as physical activity, attitude towards food and environment also contribute to obesity. Additionally, some illnesses can lead to obesity, including hypothyroidism, Cushing's syndrome and depression.
Why is obesity a problem?
Generally speaking the more obese a person is, the more likely that they will develop health problems. For example, someone who is 40 percent overweight is twice as likely to die prematurely as an average-weight person. Obesity has been linked to several serious medical conditions, including diabetes, heart disease, high blood cholesterol, high blood pressure, and stroke. It is also associated with higher rates of certain types of cancer. For instance, obese women are more likely than non-obese women to die from cancer of the gallbladder, breast, uterus, cervix and ovaries. Obesity has also been associated with psychological problems.
What treatments are available?
The method of treatment depends on the level of obesity. Generally, treatments include a combination of diet, exercise, behaviour modification, and sometimes weight-loss drugs. Although in In severe obesity, gastric surgery or other surgical intervention may be undertaken. Losing even a small amount of weight can reduce your chances of developing cardiovascular disease by improving, blood pressure and levels of blood cholesterol and triglycerides.
What does the future hold?
Over the past 10 years obesity in Europe has increased by between 10 - 30% and this rate of increase seems likely to continue in adults. Similarily, in children obesity rates have approximately doubled over the past ten years. Clearly, preventation of weight gain is preferable to to cure. But what options are there for people that are already obese?
A change of diet and eating habits are beneficial to most obese people. Combined with an increase in physical activity this approach generally leads to weight loss. In extreme cases surgical intervenation may be required, but for most people a more likely alternative is pharmacological intervention. Currently, there are a few drugs available that may help weight loss. These drugs work by a variety of mechanisms such as decreasing appetite or decreasing the absorption of fat. However, as we unravel the neural mechanisms that control appetite, more targets for pharmacological manipulation will be revealed.