The contents of this page have been produced by a team of physicians and experts of the Italian Institute of Telemedicine in compliance with the recommendations of the latest medical and scientific guidelines. Institutional communication not subject to authorisation pursuant to the Ministerial Decree 23/02/2006.
What is obesity?
Obesity is a condition characterized by an excessive accumulation of body fat causing an increase in the weight, or more properly of your body mass.
The body weight is the result of the balance between incomes (food) and expenditures (exercise). If we intake along with the food more energy than the one our body need as daily requirements, it accumulates as fat and lets your body weight increase beyond acceptable values causing an overweight or a real obesity.
Apart from the weight, in general, also the so-called “belly” has its significance: visceral obesity, in fact, is as important as the increase of the body weight.
The values of obesity
For a better understanding whether there is an obesity risk it might be useful to rely on the following table:
|Body mass index (BMI, weight/height squared) ≥30 kg/m2
|Abdominal circumference (waistline) ≥94 cm in male or ≥80 cm in female
|Body mass index (BMI, weight/height squared) ≥25 kg/m2 and <30 kg/m2
Obesity in figures
Approximately 10-15% of the world population (400 million adults) is obese, with a higher occurrence among women in comparison with men. Obesity is more common in the industrialized countries (e.g. United States, Australia and Canada) and in urban areas, increasing with the age.
The excessive body weight is connected with several pathologies, namely with cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes mellitus, obstructive sleep apneas syndrome, with some cancer forms and with the osteoarthrosis.
Obesity causes approximately 1 million deaths per year in Europe and 365 thousand in the United States. On average, obesity lowers life expectancy by approximately 6-7 years.
The causes of obesity
Obesity derives from the combination of excessive caloric intake and of reluctance to exercise, i.e. it is connected with a unhealthy lifestyle. Anyway there are cases in which obesity has genetic causes or is a consequence of other conditions or diseases or of the use of medicines.
Risk factors of overweight and obesity
- Unhealthy lifestyle
- Endocrine diseases
- Environmental factors (e.g. low temperatures, stress)
- Reduction of smoking (smoking kills appetite)
- Use of drugs which can cause a weight increase (e.g. antipsychotics)
- Pregnancy, particularly in old age
How to diagnose obesity
Obesity can be assessed in two ways:
- With the body mass index (BMI) which is calculated by dividing the weight in kg by the height in metres, squared
- by measuring the waist circumference
- Possibly use always the same scales and make sure it is rated
- It’s better to measure the weight the same day of the week at the same time, preferably in the morning, fasting, after going to the toilet, and only in underwear
- Check your weight on weekly or monthly basis.
How to measure the abdominal or waist circumference
- Get a tailor’s tape
- The measurement must be done while standing
- Place the tape around the nude abdomen, immediately above the ischium humps, basically at the belly button
- Make sure the tape is tight but does not compress the skin
- The tape must be parallel to the ground
- Relax and breathe normally while performing the measurement
How to treat obesity
To maintain your ideal weight it’s necessary to find a balance between energy incomes and expenditures, by means of the nutrition control (i.e. a balanced reduction of caloric incomes) and a physically more active life (i.e. an increase of the energy expenditures). What has to be avoided is a sedentary lifestyle, along with a hypercaloric diet. Only in extreme cases the physician prescribes the use of anti-obesity medicines.
Optimum lifestyle in case of overweight or obesity
- Monitor your body weight checking your weigh at least once a month and calculating your BMI
- Reduce your body weight by 10% in the first 6-12 months and then reach your ideal weight
- Monitor also your waist circumference
- Reduce your caloric intake eating food low in energy (vegetables and fruits) and increase your energy consumption.
- Exercise every day (walking, cycling)
- Eat only at meals and sitting at the table
- Avoid snacks, particularly in front of the television
- Don’t skip breakfast and have at least one frugal meal
- Absolutely avoid drastic and “do-it-yourself” diets.
- In case of exceeding your ideal weight ask a physician for a proper and customized diet and if needed a pharmacologic therapy.