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Friday, April 19, 2024


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By Isatou Nyang,
5th year medical student

UTG Medical Students’ Association

Overweight and obesity are defined as abnormal or excessive fat accumulation that presents a risk to health.

A body mass index (BMI) over 25, is considered overweight, and over 30 is obese. The issue has grown to epidemic proportions, with over 4 million people dying each year as a result of being overweight or obese in 2017, according to the global burden of disease.

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Rates of overweight and obesity continue to grow in adults and children. From 1975 to 2016, the prevalence of overweight or obese children and adolescents aged 5–19 years increased more than four-fold from 4% to 18% globally.

Obesity isn’t just a cosmetic concern. It’s a medical problem that increases the risk of other diseases and health problems, such as heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and certain cancers.

There are many reasons why some people have difficulty losing weight. Usually, obesity results from inherited, physiological and environmental factors, combined with diet, physical activity and exercise choices.

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Although there are genetic, behavioral, metabolic and hormonal influences on body weight, obesity occurs when you take in more calories than you burn through normal daily activities and exercise. Your body stores these excess calories as fat.

Many people who live in Western countries now have jobs that are much less physically demanding, so they don’t tend to burn as many calories at work.

Risk factors

Obesity usually results from a combination of causes and contributing factors.


The genes, you inherit from your parents may affect the amount of body fat you store, and where that fat is distributed. Genetics may also play a role in how efficiently your body converts food into energy, how your body regulates your appetite and how your body burns calories during exercise.

Obesity tends to run in families. That’s not just because of the genes they share. Family members also tend to share similar eating and activity habits.

Lifestyle choices and unhealthy diet

A diet that’s high in calories, lacking in fruits and vegetables, full of fat food, and laden with high-calorie beverages and oversized portions contributes to weight gain

Liquid calories

People can drink many calories without feeling full, especially calories from alcohol. Other high-calorie beverages, such as sugared soft drinks, can contribute to significant weight gain.


If you have a sedentary lifestyle, you can easily take in more calories every day than you burn through exercise and routine daily activities. Looking at computer, tablet and phone screens is a sedentary activity. The number of hours spent in front of a screen is highly associated with weight gain.

Certain diseases and medications

Medical problems, such as arthritis, also can lead to decreased activity, which may result in weight gain.

Some medications can lead to weight gain if you don’t compensate through diet or activity. These medications include some antidepressants, anti-seizure medications, diabetes medications, antipsychotic medications, steroids and beta blockers.

Social and economic issues

Social and economic factors are linked to obesity. Avoiding obesity is difficult if you don’t have safe areas to walk or exercise. Similarly, you may not have been taught healthy ways of cooking, or you may not have access to healthier foods. In addition, the people you spend time with may influence your weight — you’re more likely to develop obesity if you have friends or relatives with obesity.


Obesity can occur at any age, even in young children. But as you age, hormonal changes and a less active lifestyle increase your risk of obesity. In addition, the amount of muscle in your body tends to decrease with age. Generally, lower muscle mass leads to a decrease in metabolism. These changes also reduce calorie needs and can make it harder to keep off excess weight. If you don’t consciously control what you eat and become more physically active as you age, you’ll likely gain weight.


Weight gain is common during pregnancy. Some women find this weight difficult to lose after the baby is born. This weight gain may contribute to the development of obesity in women.

Quitting smoking

Quitting smoking is often associated with weight gain. And for some, it can lead to enough weight gain to qualify as obesity. Often, this happens as people use food to cope with smoking withdrawal. In the long run, however, quitting smoking is still a greater benefit to your health than continuing to smoke. Your doctor can help you prevent weight gain after quitting smoking.

Lack of sleep

Not getting enough sleep or getting too much sleep can cause changes in hormones that increase appetite. You may also crave foods high in calories and carbohydrates, which can contribute to weight gain.


Many external factors that affect mood and well-being may contribute to obesity. People often seek more high-calorie food when experiencing stressful situations.

Even if you have one or more of these risk factors, it doesn’t mean that you’re destined to develop obesity. You can counteract most risk factors through diet, physical activity and exercise, and behavior changes.


People with obesity are more likely to develop a number of potentially serious health problems, including:

Heart disease and strokes

Obesity makes you more likely to have high blood pressure and abnormal cholesterol levels, which are risk factors for heart disease and strokes.

Type 2 diabetes

Obesity can affect the way the body uses insulin to control blood sugar levels. This raises the risk of insulin resistance and diabetes.

Certain cancers

Obesity may increase the risk of cancer of the uterus, cervix, endometrium, ovary, breast, colon, rectum, esophagus, liver, gallbladder, pancreas, kidney and prostate.

Digestive problems

Obesity increases the likelihood of developing heartburn, gallbladder disease and liver problems.

Sleep apnea

People with obesity are more likely to have sleep apnea, a potentially serious disorder in which breathing repeatedly stops and starts during sleep.


Obesity increases the stress placed on weight-bearing joints, in addition to promoting inflammation within the body. These factors may lead to complications such as osteoarthritis.

Quality of life

Obesity can diminish the overall quality of life. You may not be able to do physical activities that you used to enjoy. You may avoid public places. People with obesity may even encounter discrimination.

Other weight-related issues that may affect your quality of life include: Depression, disability, shame and guilt, social isolation, lower work achievement.

How can I prevent obesity?

Preventing obesity is easier than treating it, once it has taken hold. Once your body has established a new high “set point”, it will consider that to be your new baseline weight. Your body works to modulate your hunger signals and energy expenditure to maintain the same body mass, in spite of your weight-loss intentions.

If you’ve noticed a pattern of recent weight gain in yourself or your child, or if you have a family history of obesity, you might want to take steps to intervene sooner rather than later. Examining your habits and making reasonable changes now can help you prevent future obesity and weight loss struggles.

If you have a daily snack habit, consider replacing it. Just 150 extra calories a day can add up to 10 extra pounds in a year.

Add a small activity

Go for morning or evening walks if you’re not physically active to burn down some calories.

Stock your home with healthy foods and save sweets and treats for special occasions when you go out.

Whole foods are higher in fiber and lower on the glycemic index, so they don’t cause your blood sugar to spike and drop the way processed snacks and treats do.

Cultivate overall wellness.

Reduce your screen time, go outside and go for a walk. Manage your stress and try to get adequate sleep to keep your hormone levels in check. Focus on positive changes and healthy activities rather than how your efforts affect your weight. To know more on obesity, check out www.mayoclinic.org

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