What is obesity and overweight?

Obesity is defined simply as too much body fat.  Your body is made up of water, fat, protein, carbohydrates, and various vitamins and minerals. 
If you have too much fat – especially in your waist area – you’re at higher risk for health problems, including high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, diabetes, heart disease and stroke.

Is obesity a major risk factor for coronary heart disease?

Yes.  Obesity places a person at higher risk for coronary heart disease because having excess body fat–

  • raises total blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels;
  • raises blood pressure levels; and
  • can result in diabetes.  In some people, diabetes makes these other risk factors much worse.  The danger of heart attack is especially high for people with diabetes.

What causes obesity?

Obesity is mainly caused by taking in more calories than are burned in physical activity and daily life movement.  When people eat too many calories, or too much saturated fat and cholesterol, their blood cholesterol levels often rise.  That raises their risk of heart disease.

How is body fat measured?

Waist circumference measurement and body mass index (BMI) are the recommended ways to estimate body fat.  A high-risk waistline is more than 35 inches for women, and more than 40 inches for men.

The body mass index formula assesses body weight relative to height.  It’s a useful, indirect measure of body composition because in most people it correlates with body fat.  BMI is calculated by taking your weight in pounds divided by your height in inches squared and multiply it by 703.  In studies by the National Center for Health Statistics;

  • BMI values less than 18.5 are considered underweight;
  • BMI values between 18.5 and 24.9 are healthy;
  • Overweight is defined as a body mass index of 25.0 to 29.9 (This is generally about 10 percent over an ideal body weight);
  • Being obese is defined as a BMI of 30.0 or greater; and
  • Extreme obesity is defined at a BMI of 40 or greater.

How can obesity be reduced or prevented?

Here are some suggestions:

  • Build physical activity into the family’s regular routines and playtime.  Ensure that adults get at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity on most days of the week. Children should aim for at least 60 minutes.
  • Support and encourage daily, quality physical education in all school grades. Such education can develop the knowledge, attitudes, skills, behaviors and confidence needed to be physically active for life.
  • Reduce time spent watching television and other sedentary behaviors, such as computers or video games.
  • Create more opportunities for physical activity at work. Encourage employers to make facilities and opportunities available for physical activity for all employees.
  • Make community facilities available and accessible for physical activity for all people, including the elderly.
  • Promote healthier food choices.  Recommendations are to eat five to nine servings of fruits and vegetables each day.
  • Encourage individuals to consume reasonable portion sizes of food selections. Avoid supersizing and value-added meal plans at fast food restaurants.
  • Support efforts to encourage health insurers to cover prevention and treatment of overweight and obesity.

How can schools help to reduce and prevent obesity?

Schools should provide healthful foods and beverages on school campuses and at school events.

This is best accomplished by–

  • Enforcing existing U.S. Department of Agriculture regulations that prohibit serving foods of minimal nutritional value during mealtimes in school food service areas, including in vending machines;
  • Adopting policies specifying that all foods and beverages available at school contribute to eating patterns that are consistent with USDA’s dietary guidelines for Americans;
  • Providing more food options that are low in fat, calories and added sugars such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat or nonfat dairy foods;
  • Reducing access to foods high in fat, calories and added sugars and to excessive portion sizes.