Understanding Obesity: Your Questions Answered

Obesity is a complicated topic. Here are answers to some of the most common questions about it.

What is obesity?

The World Health Organization defines obesity as an accumulation of excessive fat that presents a risk to your health.

It’s usually measured by your body mass index (BMI). This calculation takes your height and your weight then produces a number. If your BMI is over 30, you’re considered obese.

How many people struggle with obesity?

About 650 million, according to the World Health Organization. Rates of obesity around the world have nearly tripled since 1975.

Alarmingly, many more children and adolescents are now overweight or obese. In 1975, just 4% of kids were above a healthy weight. By 2016, that had risen to 18%.

What causes obesity?

At the most simple level, obesity is caused by eating too much and moving too little.

But that’s a bit of an oversimplification. Obesity is a complex health issue influenced by personal factors and the broader environment.

Personal factors that influence your weight include:

  • Genetics
  • Level of physical activity or inactivity
  • Dietary choices
  • Medications
  • Other health conditions.

Your weight is also influenced by the world you live in. Sometimes that environment works against your goal of a healthy weight.

You might prefer to cycle but end up driving everywhere because there are no safe cycle routes where you live or because you’re ferrying kids to different activities on a tight schedule.

You may love the idea of a healthy, home cooked meal in theory but easily succumb to grabbing a takeaway after a busy day, especially if you’re not confident at cooking.

You might pop into the supermarket full of good intentions to buy fruit or veggies to snack on but find it hard to resist the confectionery that’s deliberately placed right in front of you at the checkout counter.

We’re all influenced by factors like food marketing and the lure of high fat, high sugar treats. Our jobs are increasingly sedentary and most of us tend to drive rather than walk. We’re consuming more calories but expending less energy.

The end result of these personal and environmental factors is an epidemic of obesity. Because so many different factors influence weight gain, it’s a complex issue to overcome.

Can obesity be genetic?

The obesity epidemic has developed in just a few short decades. That’s too fast to be blamed on genetic changes since genetic changes in human populations occur very slowly.

Obesity can be influenced by genetic factors, though, since your genes give your body instructions for responding to changes in your environment. It’s probable that genetic factors do help explain some of the weight variation between different adults. Gene variations can help explain factors such as a drive to overeat, a tendency to be sedentary, an increased tendency to store body fat or a reduced ability to turn fats into fuel.

The reason obesity runs in families is probably a combination of nature and nurture. There may be a genetic predisposition towards obesity in some families. But we also learn our diet and activity habits in our family.

Is there a difference between being overweight and being obese?

Yes. It’s a matter of degree and depends on your BMI.

To calculate your BMI or body mass index, you need to know your height and your weight. You enter this into a BMI calculator and it gives you a number that tells you whether you’re a healthy weight for your height.

If your BMI is over 25, you’re considered overweight. If it’s over 30, you’re considered obese.

Are there different levels of obesity?

Yes. Again, it goes back to your BMI measurement.

If your BMI is:

  • Over 30, you have stage 1 obesity
  • Over 35, you have stage 2 obesity
  • Over 40, you have morbid obesity.

How does obesity affect your body?

Obesity affects your body in countless ways. It increases your risk of a number of serious health conditions including:

  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Heart disease and strokes
  • Some types of cancer
  • Sleep apnoea
  • Osteoarthritis (wear-and-tear arthritis)
  • Fatty liver disease
  • Kidney disease
  • Pregnancy problems, such as high blood sugar during pregnancy, high blood pressure, and increased risk for cesarean delivery

How does obesity affect mental health?

There’s a chicken-and-egg relationship between mental health and obesity. It’s not been proven that one condition causes the other but we can certainly see that having one condition makes it more likely that you’ll develop the other.

If you live with a mental health condition, you’re 2-3 times more likely to develop obesity and obesity-related illnesses like diabetes and heart problems. If you’re living with obesity, you’re more likely to experience depression.

Living with depression may mean that you binge eat or comfort eat. It also makes it less likely that you’ll exercise properly. That makes it likely that you’ll gain weight. If you’re living with obesity, you may experience depression due to stigma and poor body image.

Is obesity a disease?

There’s a debate about that. Some doctors argue that recognising obesity as a disease may make it easier for people to seek treatment. Others argue that it would be disempowering and demotivating to treat obesity as a disease rather than a lifestyle issue.

Does obesity affect fertility?

Yes, quite significantly.

Women may experience weight-related hormonal imbalances and problems with ovulation that make it hard to conceive. Overweight women who are pregnant face a higher risk of miscarriage, pregnancy complications like gestational diabetes or pre-eclampsia. There are also increased health risks for the baby.

Obesity can also thwart the hopes of would-be fathers too. That’s because excess weight reduces sperm count and sperm quality.

For the best chance of easy conception, a straightforward pregnancy, and a healthy baby, both prospective parents should be at a healthy weight before conception takes place.

That can be a strong motivator to lose weight.

Can obesity be prevented?

Achieving and maintaining a healthy weight involves:

  • Regular moderate-intensity exercise like walking and swimming
  • Eating a healthy diet that’s high in fresh fruit, vegetables, protein and whole grains and low in saturated fat and sugar
  • Weighing yourself regularly to check your weight is OK
  • Understanding yourself and learning why you overeat and under-exercise.

How do you treat obesity?

If you struggle with obesity, you’ve probably tried many different diets, supplements, exercise plans or meal replacement shakes over the years.

Some people do manage to develop a healthier lifestyle and lose weight using diet and exercise changes.

Many others, however, find that the weight does not shift, the habits cannot be overcome. For many people, weight loss surgery proves to be the best treatment for obesity.

A review of the various types of bariatric surgery concluded that weight loss surgery ‘results in a profound decrease in risk for coronary heart disease and overall mortality…bariatric surgery has become a powerful treatment option to help control the obesity epidemic.’

How can Life Weight Loss Centre help?

Life Weight Loss Centre supports your weight loss journey by providing several types of bariatric surgery to restrict the amount of calories you consume or change how you absorb them.

Before and after the operation, you’ll benefit from the skills of our dietitian and exercise physiologist. We’ll support you to develop a healthy lifestyle to help you keep the weight off in the long run.

If you’re keen to learn more about how weight loss surgery could help you, then please contact us.


All information is general in nature. Patients should consider their own personal circumstances and seek a second opinion. Any surgical or invasive procedure carries risks.

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Request a callback from one of our friendly Practice Managers


Want to know more? Request a callback

Want to know more?

Request a callback from one of our friendly Practice Managers