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What is obesity?

The US Surgeon General has declared that overweight and obesity have reached epidemic proportions in this country. One in three US adults are overweight or obese and 15 percent of children between the ages of six and 19 are overweight. Public health officials say physical inactivity and poor diet are catching up to tobacco as a significant threat to health. Currently, about 35 percent of women and 31 percent of men are considered seriously overweight. Obesity is a serious, chronic disease that can inflict substantial harm to a person's health.

Overweight and obesity are not the same; rather, they are different points on a continuum of weight ranging from being underweight to being morbidly obese. The percentage of people who fit into these two categories, overweight and obese, is determined by Body Mass Index (BMI).

BMI is a measure of weight proportionate to height. BMI is considered a useful measurement of the amount of body fat. Occasionally, some very muscular people may have a BMI in the overweight range. However, these people are not considered overweight because muscle tissue weighs more than fat tissue. Generally, BMI can be considered an effective way to evaluate whether a person is overweight or obese.

What causes obesity?

In many ways, obesity is a puzzling disease. How the body regulates weight and body fat is not well understood. On one hand, the cause appears to be simple in that if a person consumes more calories than he or she expends as energy, then he or she will gain weight.

However, the risk factors that determine obesity can be a complex combination of genetics, socioeconomic factors, metabolic factors, and lifestyle choices, as well as other factors. Some endocrine disorders, diseases, and medications may also exert a powerful influence on an individual’s weight.

Factors which may influence the occurrence of obesity include, but are not limited to, the following:

Who is affected by obesity?

Physical factors contributing to excess body fat in adolescents include the following:

Behavioral and other factors contributing to a positive energy balance stored as fat over long periods of time include the following:

What are the symptoms of obesity?

The following are the most common symptoms that indicate an adolescent is obese. However, each adolescent may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

Adolescents who are obese often experience significant social pressure, stress, and difficulties accomplishing developmental tasks. Psychologic disturbances are also very common. The symptoms of obesity may resemble other conditions or medical problems. Always consult your adolescent's physician for a diagnosis.

Health effects of obesity:

Obesity has a far-ranging negative effect on health. Each year obesity-related conditions cost over 100 billion dollars and cause an estimated 300,000 premature deaths in the US. The health effects associated with obesity include, but are not limited to, the following:

How is obesity diagnosed?

Obesity is diagnosed by a physician. The body mass index (BMI) is usually used to define obesity in adolescents. Two categories are defined, including the following:

  1. BMIs at the 95th percentile or more for age and sex or BMIs of more than 30 (whichever is smaller). BMI findings in this category indicate the need for a complete medical work-up.
  2. BMIs between the 85th and 95th percentile or BMIs equal to 30 (whichever is smaller) suggest a second level screening which includes evaluation of five areas of health risks including the following:

Treatment for obesity:

Specific treatment for obesity will be determined by your adolescent's physician based on:

Treatment for obesity in adolescents may include the following:

Treatment planning to address the above components often include the involvement of a nutritionist, qualified mental health professionals, and an exercise specialist. Treatment goals should be realistic, focused on modest reduction of intake, changes in eating habits, and the incorporation of a healthy exercise-oriented lifestyle.

Prevention of obesity:

Young people generally become overweight or obese because they do not get enough physical activity in combination with poor eating habits. Genetics and lifestyle also contribute to a child’s weight status.

Recommendations for prevention of overweight and obesity during childhood and adolescence include:

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Online Resources of Adolescent Medicine

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