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Being overweight or obese means your weight is above an ideal weight range. Excess weight creates an increase in the risk of serious diseases like heart disease, certain cancers, and diabetes.

One tool used to estimate weight range is called the body mass index (BMI). This scale determines weight ranges based on height. BMI levels in adults include:

  • Ideal weight range: 18.5-24.9
  • Overweight: 25-29.9
  • Obese: 30 or above
  • Morbid obesity: 40


Being overweight is caused by taking in more calories than we use. Calories are taken in through food. All activity in our bodies is fueled by calories. This includes physical activity and basic bodily functions. Excess weight gain occurs when this relationship is not kept in balance. If this imbalance happens regularly it will lead to obesity.

Factors that can influence the development of obesity include:

  • Genetics
  • Biologic factors—the amount and activity of certain chemicals in the body
  • Medications, such as corticosteroids, antidepressants, or antipsychotics
  • Underactive thyroid
  • Cushing’s disease
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome

Risk Factors

This condition is more common in older adults.

Factors that may increase your chance of becoming overweight include:

  • Personal history of obesity as a child
  • Family history of obesity
  • Eating large portions of food
  • Sedentary lifestyle—getting too little exercise and spending too much time in front of a television or computer
  • Eating until full and eating quickly
  • High level of fast food intake
  • High alcohol consumption
  • Working varied shifts
  • Not getting enough sleep
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder in women


Symptoms may include:

  • Increased weight
  • Thickness around the midsection
  • Obvious areas of fat deposits

Complications of Excessive Weight Gain

Excessive weight gain has been linked to:

An increased risk of:

  • Early death
  • Heart disease and stroke
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol and high triglycerides in the blood
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
  • Increased risk of certain cancers, such as liver, kidney, thyroid, colon, and rectal
  • Death from cancer
  • Blood clots
  • Gout
  • Liver disease
  • Gallstones
  • Pancreatitis
  • Cataracts

Decrease in quality of life associated with:

  • Decreased energy
  • Sleep apnea
  • Joint problems, back pain
  • Poor self-image, depression
  • Infertility

Being overweight can also affect pregnancy. Some complications include:

  • High blood pressure—preeclampsia
  • Gestational diabetes
  • Depression during your pregnancy
  • Depression after your baby is born—postpartum depression

You may also experience problems during labor and deliver, have a baby with a high birth weight, or have a baby with birth defects.


You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. Obesity is diagnosed by visual exam and body measurements using:

  • Height and weight tables
  • Body mass index
  • Measuring body folds with a caliper
  • Measuring waist circumference
  • Water-displacement tests

Your bodily fluids may be tested. This can be done with blood tests.


Obesity is difficult to treat. Things that affect treatment are:

  • Cultural factors
  • Personal habits
  • Lifestyle
  • Genetics

You and your doctor will talk about the best treatment plan for you. There are many different approaches to treating obesity based on lifestyle changes. You are more likely to successfully lose weight and keep it off by using a combination of strategies. These can include eating healthy, exercise, counseling, and/or medication. Plans for weight loss may include:


Controlling your weight can be difficult. To reduce your chance of getting overweight, take these steps:

  • Talk to your doctor or a dietitian about an appropriate number of calories to eat per day that will help you maintain a healthy weight or lose weight if necessary.
  • Learn to eat smaller portions of food.
  • Limit the amount of time you spend doing sedentary activities. This includes watching TV or using the computer.
  • Talk to your doctor or an exercise professional about working activity into your daily life.

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