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Obesity means weighing more than is considered healthy for a given height. People who are obese are at increased risk for many diseases and health problems. Some obesity-related health problems include the following:

Being obese also raises your risk for colon, breast, endometrial and gallbladder cancers.

Obesity and BMI

Your body mass index — or BMI — is one measure of whether you are at a healthy weight. Your BMI is a number based on the ratio of your height and weight.

  • Underweight: BMI under 18.5
  • Normal: BMI between 18.5 and 24.9
  • Overweight: BMI between 25 and 29.9
  • Obese: BMI 30 or more
  • Morbidly obese: BMI 40 or more

If you are overweight or your BMI is in the obese range, it doesn’t mean you are not healthy. It does mean you are at higher risk of developing one or more serious health problems. Calculate your BMI.

Your risk of developing obesity-related health problems increases if you are morbidly obese.

Risks of abdominal obesity or ‘belly fat’

Where your body stores fat is also important.

  • Abdominal obesity — sometimes called “belly fat” — refers to excess fat around the midsection. People who have abdominal obesity are often said to have an apple shape.
  • One way to tell if you have abdominal obesity is to measure your waist size. If you are a man, your waist size should be no more than 40 inches. If you are a woman, your waist size should be less than 35 inches.
  • Even if your weight is normal, storing excess fat around your stomach puts you at increased risk for type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol and triglycerides, heart disease and other problems.

Obesity causes

Obesity occurs over time when you take in more calories than your body needs to function properly. When you eat and drink more calories than your body needs, your body stores the extra energy as fat.

Being obese is more than a matter of simple math, however. There are many factors that influence whether you become obese. The following are just a few:

  • Your environment and lifestyle
    • Where you live may affect your access to healthy foods and places to safely take part in physical activities. 
    • Your work hours or family obligations may make it difficult for you to fit exercise into your life.
    • You may eat at restaurants a lot, which often leads to eating more calories than you need.
  • Your culture: You may come from a culture where foods rich in fat or sugar are traditional.
  • Your genes: Research shows that obesity tends to run in families, suggesting that your genes have an impact on whether you become obese.

Lifestyle changes to lose weight

Becoming more active and eating more healthy foods are steps you can take to lose weight. If you are overweight or obese, losing as little as 5 to 10 percent of your weight can help improve your health.

Tips for starting an exercise program

  • Try to get at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity each week. Aerobic activity is anything that raises your heart rate and makes you sweat. Taking a walk, riding a bicycle, swimming, playing tennis: Any activity that gets you moving counts.
  • If you can’t do long workout sessions, you can get your 150 minutes of activity in small chunks of time spread out over the week. Do chores around the house at a brisk pace, walk your dog or dance to your favorite music for at least 10 minutes at a time.

Ways to start eating better

  • Eat more fruits and vegetables. Try to make them take up half of your plate at most meals.
  • Replace refined grains like white bread with whole grains such as oatmeal, whole wheat bread and brown rice.
  • Focus on healthy sources of protein, like seafood, lean meats, poultry, eggs, beans, unsalted nuts and seeds.
  • Cut down on or eliminate sugary drinks. Choose unsweetened tea, low-fat milk or water instead.
  • Try to eat more meals at home.

Obesity care at Rush

Talk to your primary care doctor at Rush if you are concerned about your weight. He or she can help you create a plan for safely reducing your weight. Your primary care doctor may refer you to a registered dietitian or to a comprehensive lifestyle program for expert help in modifying your diet and getting more active.

If your weight has already affected your health and lifestyle changes haven’t been effective, your doctor may recommend additional treatment, including weight-loss drugs.

Weight-loss surgery — called bariatric surgery — is also an option. You and your doctor may decide bariatric surgery is the best choice for you. These are some reasons you might choose bariatric surgery:

  • You are extremely obese, with a BMI of 40 or higher.
  • Your BMI is between 35 and 40, and you have a serious health problem related to your weight, like type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure or sleep apnea.
  • You have worked hard to get to a healthy weight without success. Modifying your diet and exercise habits — maybe even medically supervised dieting — hasn't worked for you.

Why choose Rush for obesity care

  • Weight-loss experts at Rush understand that lifestyle change isn’t always easy. The Weight Management Program in the Rush University Prevention Center and the Rush Nutrition and Wellness Center offer comprehensive services to help you learn how to make and sustain lifestyle changes.
  • Researchers at Rush have been active in studies that have increased understanding of the role of abdominal obesity in women’s health.
  • If you opt for bariatric surgery, Rush’s skilled surgeons have the expertise to help you choose the procedure that’s best for you — and they use minimally invasive techniques whenever possible. The Bariatric Surgery Program’s expert team also includes medical, mental health and nutrition specialists.

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