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Sunday, July 14, 2013
Obesity is a disease, and, unfortunately, obesity has become a global epidemic. Last month, the American Medical Association categorized obesity as a disease. One dictionary defines disease as a condition of the living animal or plant body or of one of its parts that impairs normal functioning and is typically manifested by distinguishing signs or symptoms.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, obesity is weight that is greater than what is generally considered healthy for a given height. The term also identifies weight that has been shown to increase the likelihood of certain other health problems.
For adults, obesity can be determined by using weight and height to calculate a number called the “body mass index.” BMI is used because, for most people, it correlates with their amount of body fat. An adult who has a BMI of 30 or higher is considered obese. Although BMI correlates with the amount of body fat, BMI does not directly measure body fat. As a result, some people, such as athletes, may have a high BMI without excess body fat. Other methods of estimating body fat and body fat distribution include measurements of skinfold thickness and waist circumference, calculation of waist-to-hip circumference ratios and techniques such as ultrasound, computed tomography and magnetic resonance imaging.
To assess someone’s likelihood of developing obesity-related diseases, the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute guidelines recommend looking at two other predictors: an individual’s waist circumference (abdominal fat is a predictor of risk for obesity-related diseases) and other risk factors the individual has for diseases and conditions associated with obesity like high blood pressure or physical inactivity.
A child’s weight status is determined using an age- and sex-specific percentile for BMI rather than the BMI categories used for adults because children’s body composition varies as they age and varies between boys and girls. Obesity is defined as a BMI at or above the 95th percentile for children of the same age and sex.
Childhood obesity can have a harmful effect on the body, and obese children are more likely to become obese adults with more severe obesity because obese children are more likely to have high blood pressure and high cholesterol, which are risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Obese children have an increased risk of impaired glucose tolerance, insulin resistance and diabetes, breathing problems, such as sleep apnea and asthma, as well as joint problems and musculoskeletal discomfort, and fatty liver disease, gallstones and gastro-
esophageal reflux. Obese children and adolescents have a greater risk of social and psychological problems, such as discrimination and poor self-esteem, which can continue into adulthood.
Designating obesity as a disease is no cure. There is compelling evidence that the most effective way to curb this epidemic is through policy and to build environment changes in our communities to create the conditions for all of us to eat healthy and move more in our daily lives.
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