In our looks-obsessed society, lots of people think that being overweight is an
appearance issue. But being overweight
is actually a medical concern because it can seriously affect a person's health.
Diabetes and heart disease are health problems that can stem from being overweight.
Being overweight can also affect a person's joints, breathing, sleep, mood, and energy
levels. So being overweight can affect a person's entire quality of life.
When people eat more calories than they use, their bodies store the extra calories
A couple of pounds of extra body fat are not a health risk for most people. But
when people keep up a pattern of eating more calories than they burn, more and more
fat builds up in their bodies.
Eventually, the body gets to a point where the amount of body fat can harm a person's
health. Doctors use the terms "overweight" or "obese" to tell
if someone has a greater chance of developing weight-related health problems.
As you've probably heard, more people are overweight today than ever before. The
"obesity epidemic" affects kids and teens as well as adults. So younger
people are now getting health problems that used to affect only adults, like high
blood pressure, high cholesterol, and type
Why Do People Become Overweight?
Obesity tends to run in families. Some people have a
tendency to gain weight more easily than others. Although genes strongly
influence body type and size, the environment also plays a role.
People today are gaining weight because of unhealthy food choices (like fast food)
and family habits (like eating in front of the TV instead of around a table). High-calorie,
low-nutrient snacks and beverages, bigger portions of food, and less-active lifestyles
are all contributing to the obesity epidemic.
Sometimes people turn to food for emotional reasons, such as when they feel upset,
anxious, sad, stressed out, or even bored. When this happens, they often eat more
than they need.
Figuring out if a teen is overweight is a little more complicated than it is for
adults. That's because teens are still growing and developing.
Doctors and other health care professionals use a measurement called body
mass index (BMI) to tell if someone is overweight.
The doctor calculates BMI using a person's height and weight, and then plots that
number on a chart. There are different charts for girls or guys. BMI estimates how
much body fat the person has.
Because muscle weighs more than fat, a muscular person can have a high BMI, but
not too much body fat. Likewise, it's possible for someone to have a low or ideal
BMI but still have too much body fat.
You may get a BMI report from school, but the best way to understand BMI is to
talk to your doctor.
Health Problems of Being Overweight
Obesity is bad news for both body and mind. Not only can it make someone feel tired
and uncomfortable, carrying extra weight puts added stress on the body, especially
the bones and joints of the legs. Kids and teens who are overweight are more likely
to develop diabetes and other health problems. And overweight adults have a higher
chance of getting heart disease.
Weight-related health problems include:
Asthma. Obesity increases the chance of having asthma.
Breathing problems related to weight can make it harder to keep up with friends, play
sports, or just walk from class to class.
Sleep apnea. This condition (where a person temporarily stops
breathing during sleep) is a serious problem for many overweight kids and adults.
Sleep apnea can leave people feeling tired and affect their ability to concentrate
and learn. It also may lead to heart problems.
High blood pressure. When blood pressure is high, the heart has
to work harder. If the problem continues for a long time, high
blood pressure can damage the heart and arteries.
High cholesterol. Abnormal blood lipid levels, including high
cholesterol, low HDL ("good") cholesterol, and high triglyceride levels,
increase the chances of having a heart attack or stroke when a person gets older.
Gallstones. A buildup of bile that hardens in the gallbladder
forms gallstones. These can be painful and require surgery.
Fatty liver. If fat builds up in the liver, it can cause
, scarring, and permanent liver damage.
Joint and muscle pain. Wear and tear on the joints from carrying
extra weight may lead to arthritis in adulthood.
Slipped capital femoral epiphyses (SCFE). SCFE is a painful hip
problem that requires immediate attention and surgery to prevent further damage to
Pseudotumor cerebri. This is a rare cause of severe headaches
in obese teens and adults. There is no tumor, but pressure builds in the brain. Besides
headaches, symptoms may include vomiting, double vision, and other vision problems.
Polycystic ovary syndrome
(PCOS). Although it's normal for girls to have some testosterone (the
male hormone), girls with PCOS have higher testosterone levels in the blood. They
also may have irregular
periods, too much hair growth, and bad acne.
Insulin resistance and diabetes. Insulin is a hormone that lowers
the level of
(a type of sugar) in the blood. When there is too must body fat,
is less effective at getting glucose, the body's main source of energy,
into cells. The body then needs more insulin to maintain a normal blood sugar level.
For some overweight teens,
progresses to diabetes
(high blood sugar).
People who are obese are more likely to be depressed and have lower self-esteem.
Luckily, it's never too late to make changes that can help control weight gain
and the health problems it causes. Those changes don't have to be big. For a start,
make a plan to cut back on sugary beverages, control portions,
and get more exercise, even if it's just 5–10 minutes a day. Build your way up to
big changes by making a series of small ones. And don't be afraid to ask for help!