By Lisa Dobruskin, MD, FACS
Did you know that more than 1 in 3 adults in the United States struggle with obesity, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)?
And while many view obesity as a cosmetic issue, the consequences are far greater.
In fact, obesity is classified as a disease because of the adverse medical effects it has on your body, including increasing your risk for heart disease, diabetes and certain cancers.
Fortunately, however, treating obesity can often stop its progression, lower your risk for other complications, and in many cases, even reverse the damage to your health.
A Variety of Causes
The old thinking that a lack of willpower is to blame for obesity is no longer considered valid.
Science shows that obesity stems from a variety of causes including genetics, diet, inactivity, hormone problems, and certain medications. Additionally, studies have found that lack of quality sleep can contribute to being overweight or obese.
Further, being overweight or obese can cause hormonal and other chemical changes in your body that contribute to the disease and make it difficult to lose weight through diet and exercise alone.
In other words, losing weight is often not as simple as pushing yourself away from the dinner table and hitting the gym.
Serious Health Complications
Weight that is higher than what is considered a healthy weight for a given height is characterized as overweight or obese.
Doctors typically use body mass index (BMI) as a screening tool to measure if someone is overweight or obese. BMI is defined as weight in kilograms divided by height in meters squared.
A BMI that is between 18.5 and less than 25 is considered normal. A BMI between 25 and less than 30 falls within the overweight range, and a BMI over 30 is considered obese.
Obesity is associated with many of the leading causes of death and increases an individual’s risk for serious health conditions including:
• High blood pressure
• High cholesterol
• Type 2 diabetes
• Heart disease
• Fatty liver disease
• Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
• Sleep apnea
• Some cancers (endometrial, breast, colon, kidney, gallbladder, and liver)
• Mental health disorders (depression and anxiety)
Most recently, a CDC study released in March 2021 found that being overweight or obese also increased the risk for severe illness from the COVID-19 virus. Researchers suspect that chronic inflammation typically associated with obesity may disrupt the immune response to the virus and that excess weight may impair lung function.
Food Logging and Other Tips
Weight loss and weight management involve many factors, including diet, exercise and other lifestyle changes. The following tips can help support your weight loss journey:
• Log your food (without judgment). Logging everything you eat and drink each day can help provide a better understanding of your overall diet and identify patterns and areas where there are opportunities to improve. Try not to judge what you log.
• Track your steps. Start tracking your steps each day and rather than setting a goal you might not achieve, simply aim to increase your step count each week. If you walked 500 steps each day this week, try adding 100 more a day next week.
• Step on the scale. Weighing yourself regularly – at least once a week – is important to catching any weight gain and reversing it before it adds up.
• Set realistic expectations. As long as the number on the scale is going down, even if it is just by a half a pound a week or every two weeks, you’re losing weight.
• Avoid negative self-talk. Losing weight is hard. Do not beat yourself up over a bad choice. Instead, show yourself understanding, stay motivated and get yourself back on track.
Because of the hormonal and other chemical changes associated with obesity, many people who are obese need medical treatment to help jump start their weight loss and address related health conditions.
At the Center for Bariatric Surgery & Metabolic Medicine at Penn Medicine Princeton Medical Center, a team of weight loss specialists helps patients find a weight-loss strategy that meets their own unique needs, including surgical options such as gastric bypass and sleeve gastrectomy.
To learn more about the Center for Bariatric Surgery & Metabolic Medicine, call 609-785-5870 or visit www.princetonhcs.org/weightloss.
Lisa Dobruskin, MD, FACS, is a board certified surgeon specializing in bariatric surgery, and a fellow of the American College of Surgeons. She is the medical director of the Center for Bariatric Surgery & Metabolic Medicine at Penn Medicine Princeton Health.