Obesity – Symptoms, Risk factors, Causes, Prevention and more

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Does it ring a bell when you read the word ‘obesity’? It is indeed familiar since India is the third most obese country in the world. This puts a person at risk for various other issues.

Obesity is a complex problem influenced by factors such as lifestyle, environment and genetics.

What is obesity?

Obesity is a disease in which a person’s weight is abnormally high with Body Mass Index (BMI) greater than or equal to 25 Kg/m2.


The BMI is calculated by dividing a person’s weight in kilogrammes by the square of their height in metres.

It is described as abnormal or excessive fat build-up that can lead to a variety of other health issues. The percentage of fat is higher than the lean body mass.

Who is affected by obesity?

People fall under the obese category when they have

  • BMI greater than or equal to 25 Kg/m2.  
  • High body fat percentage
  • Aged over 60 years
  • A waist circumference of ≥ 90 cm in males and ≥ 80 cm in females

Classifications of obesity

Obesity is classified based on the BMI of a person. The WHO classification of BMI for the Asian-pacific population is as follows:

CategoryBMI (Kg/m2)
Underweight< 18.5
Normal18.5 – 22.9
Overweight23 – 24.9
Obese 25 – 29.9
Severely Obese≥ 30

Other common methods of classifying obesity are waist-hip ratio and waist circumference.

A waist circumference of ≥ 90 cm in men and ≥ 80 cm in women indicates obesity.

Healthy weight

A person is said to possess a healthy weight when their BMI ranges between 18.5 and 22.9 Kg/m2. Since this doesn’t point out the fat content in a person, body fat percentage has to be measured.

Maintaining an ideal weight is important to refrain from acquiring other metabolic disorders such as diabetes, hypertension and stroke.


The primary cause of overweight is excessive body fat formation which is as a result of consuming more calories than the body can burn. Asians are considered overweight when their BMI ranges between 23 and 24.9 Kg/m2.


An individual is considered to be obese when the person’s weight is 20% or more than normal with a high amount of body fat.

Obesity is signified by a BMI range of 25 to 29.9 Kg/m2.

Severely obese

Severe obesity describes a person who is morbidly obese meaning the BMI of the individual is ≥ 30 Kg/m2. This serves as a precursor for various other diseases.

Symptoms of obesity

Obesity symptoms extend beyond increased body fat. Obesity can cause shortness of breath, skin concerns, sleeping troubles and other issues.

Low back pain  

Low back pain

The back, knees and pelvis are affected by excess weight. It is said that the lower back becomes strained with the pelvis forced forward as a result of increased body weight.

A strained lower back is indicated by pain, tightness and discomfort.


Being overweight increases the likelihood of fatigue by raising the risk of illnesses like diabetes or sleep apnea. These diseases possess tiredness as a common symptom.

Fatigue or tiredness can also be exacerbated by carrying additional weight and having joint or muscle pain.

Heavy sweating 

Hyperhidrosis, also known as excessive sweating, can be caused due to obesity or having a BMI of ≥ 30 Kg/m2.

Obese people sweat more for a variety of reasons. Due to their excess weight, they must expend significant physical effort to perform daily tasks and activities. This makes them more likely to get overheated and sweat.

Joint pain  

The pressure on the joints, especially those in the ankles, knees and hips, rises as body weight accumulates.

The cartilage in the joints can wear down over time on account of surplus weight. This causes considerable pain and makes walking difficult.

Obesity can also raise inflammatory levels in the body, causing joint discomfort.

Low confidence or self-esteem 

People who are obese are emotionally unstable, less self-assured and disengaged socially.

Being more prone to bullying, humiliation and exclusion, obese people are more likely to have a negative impact on social life.

They may exercise less and stay indoors due to their fear of bullying.

Shortness of breath 

Shortness of breath can be caused by obesity as excess weight in the chest and belly puts more strain on the muscles that control breathing.

Obesity Hypoventilation Syndrome (OHS) is a breathing disorder that affects people who are obese. The muscles of the respiratory system work harder than normal times because of extra weight.

The level of carbon dioxide is high and that of oxygen is low in the blood for people with OHS, making the neurological system work slow.

The condition can also be caused by obstructive sleep apnea.


Overweight or obese people are more likely to snore or suffer from obstructive sleep apnea because of restricted airways.

The cause of airway constriction can be attributed to big tonsils, adenoids or a long soft palate. This instigates snoring.

Snoring is mostly caused by obesity. This is owing to the existence of neck fat in most cases. When a person lies down, the upper airway is compressed, making snoring more possible.

Causes of obesity

Several factors can contribute to weight gain and obesity. Although body weight is influenced by hormonal, behavioural, genetic and metabolic elements, the foremost cause is consuming excess calories for a prolonged time.


Apparently, obese people have numerous genes that predispose them to gain weight. These genes include the fat mass and obesity-associated gene (FTO). This is prevalent in nearly half the population.

Obesity is not just caused by genetics. The genetic factor is triggered when people consume more calories than they require for growth and energy.

Lack of exercise

If a person is not physically active enough, the energy provided by the food ingested will not be properly utilised. The additional energy will be stored as fat in the body, leading to obesity.

Exercising and being physically active boosts people’s total energy expenditure, helping them to maintain energy balance. This makes up for the excess food intake.

Physical activity reduces waist fat and overall body fat, reducing the progression of abdominal obesity.


Excessive eating by an obese person

Obesity occurs when a person consumes too many calories than they require on a regular basis causing energy imbalance.

These additional calories are stored as body fat by the body and tip the scale towards excess weight.

Poor diet 

Obesity does not appear out of the blue. It develops over time as a result of bad lifestyle and eating habits. These include,

  • Frequent consumption of processed and fast food – This being high in fat and sugar causes weight gain.
  • Comfort eating – Eating too much food as per psychological preferences.
  • High alcohol intake – Alcohol is high in calories, and people who drink heavily are frequently overweight.
  • Eating outside food – Getting tempted by restaurant foods and consuming it quite often is a predisposing factor for obesity.
  • Drinking carbonated beverages and high sugar content liquids.

Risk factors of obesity

A variety of factors cause obesity, including eating habits, exercise, sleep patterns, certain medications, family history and genetics. 

A few may be modifiable like sleep, stress, diet and lifestyle pattern while there are some non-modifiable risk factors like genetics, sociodemographic factors and community.


The amount of fat retained and distributed by the body is influenced by genetic factors.

It may also impact the efficient conversion of food to energy, hunger control and calories burned while performing activities.

Obesity is a trait that runs through families. That isn’t just because they share genes. Family members also have comparable eating and physical activity routines.

Environment and community

Physical activity, socioeconomic position, alcohol intake, parent feeding style and food are some of the environmental factors that contribute to obesity.

Environmental and societal changes associated with development are often the cause of changes in dietary and physical activity patterns.

When compared to urban sectors, rural areas have a higher risk of obesity.

Psychological and other factors

Obesity has a negative impact on physical, psychological and emotional health.

Poor emotional control, pessimistic thoughts and low self-worth due to obesity results in anxiety and eating disorders.

This frequently leads to poor self-care, emotional eating and a lack of motivation to exercise regularly, ultimately causing weight gain.

When to see a doctor? 

It is advised to visit a doctor when a person’s BMI is ≥ 40 Kg/m2, signifying morbid obesity.

Morbid obesity and certain obesity-related illnesses are also diagnosed in persons with a BMI of 35 to 40 Kg/m2. If the BMI puts a person in the obese category, it is vital to seek a doctor’s assistance.

Lifestyle changes and diet modification don’t do justice to the weight loss journey in a few cases. It is crucial to consult a doctor and get medications and treatments prescribed in such circumstances.

Treatment for obesity

The first line of obesity treatment is static which involves weight reduction and lifestyle modifications. When it doesn’t show results, treatment is planned based on the severity and cause of obesity.

Weight loss

Losing weight is the primary step in reducing obesity since weight loss tags along with fat loss. Weight loss is suggested to be done through healthy eating, physical activity and lifestyle changes.

Some people may benefit from weight-management programmes in order to lose weight or avoid regaining it.

It is recommended to lose 5 to 10 % of body weight within the first 6 months of treatment.


The first step in treating obesity is to continuously follow a healthy eating plan with calorie restrictions. Obesity can be handled when a proper diet is followed along with regular physical activity.


Engaging in moderate-intensity exercises of 30 to 60 minutes a day done thrice a week is considered to be effective for weight loss and obesity management.

However, the need for physical activity raises with increased Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) and grade of obesity.


When diet and physical activity prove to be not enough, medications are prescribed to manage obesity.

While taking weight-loss medications, it is also necessary to keep the eating habits clean and maintain regular physical activity.

Most advertisements for dietary supplements claiming to aid weight loss are false. It is advised to not fall for such assertions and get the help of a doctor to move through the weight loss process.

Bariatric surgery is recommended in rare cases for treating uncontrolled obesity.

Behavioural modification

Behavioural treatment for obesity is effective and reasonably inexpensive. Modifying an unhealthy lifestyle and incorporating healthy practices form the base for behavioural modification.

Changes that can be implemented are

  • Using smaller plates for meal consumption
  • Removing snack items from the home
  • Walking after every meal
  • Increasing water intake
  • Avoiding chronic sitting

Prevention of obesity

Obesity is harmful and can predispose to various other metabolic diseases. Therefore, people who are overweight should be precautious and choose to prevent obesity.

Choosing healthier foods 

A healthy diet not only prevents obesity but also protects against major diseases like Diabetes, heart diseases and cancer.

Clean food also aids in weight loss. Food rich in protein, fibre and vitamins serves to fulfil the weight loss dreams of many. These include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, millets and nuts and seeds.

Limiting unhealthy Foods 

Unhealthy foods contain a high amount of fat and sugar. These are mostly processed and accelerate weight gain. Obesity arises from the surplus unwanted energy from such foods.

Carbonated beverages, sweets, refined flours and fried foods are foods that must be avoided to prevent obesity.

Increasing physical activities

increasing physical activities

Exercise as a technique of lowering obesity provides advantages that go beyond fat mass reduction.

In many cases, fitness is linked to better clinical results, such as reduced metabolic disease, cardiovascular disease, inflammation and many other diseases.

Limiting television time

Obesity has been linked to sedentary activities such as increased screen time and prolonged sitting. Reducing the time spent watching television can help prevent obesity.


Obesity is a treatable life-threatening lifestyle disorder. Several factors such as unhealthy eating habits, physical inactivity and genetics are predisposing factors for obesity.

Prolonged obesity may make a person susceptible to metabolic syndrome. It can be prevented and treated with lifestyle modifications and healthy eating patterns.

It is to be noted that being fat or obese is no one’s fault. Therefore, one should refrain from stressing over physical appearance and work towards attaining better health.


1.How is obesity defined? 

Obesity is defined as an aberrant and excessive build-up of body fat indicated by a BMI of ≥ 25 Kg/m2.

2.Is obesity genetic? 

Obesity is genetic in a few cases. Genes along with improper lifestyle predispose a person to obesity.

3.What can be done to prevent obesity? 

Obesity can be prevented with a healthy lifestyle, proper diet pattern, increased physical activity and reduced stress.

4.Why is it important to prevent obesity? 

Obesity paves way for diseases like heart attack, stroke, Diabetes and cardiac diseases. It is important to prevent obesity to abstain from such diseases.
Children prone to obesity are likely to develop adulthood obesity and is therefore crucial to prevent it.

5.What are the symptoms of being obese? 

Tiredness, sleeping difficulty, joint pain, depression, low confidence and shortness of breath are a few symptoms of obesity.

6.What is the best treatment for obesity?

Eating a healthy, calorie-restricted diet with adequate physical activity serves to be the best treatment for obesity.

7. How can obesity problems be solved? 

Obesity problems can be solved by adopting a healthy lifestyle coupled with a weight loss diet and physical activity.

8.What are the 3 keys to preventing obesity?

Reduced sedentary lifestyle, increased physical activity and choosing healthy eating patterns are three keys to preventing obesity.

9.What are some questions to ask about obesity? 

Here are some questions to ask regarding obesity,
 Can obesity be cured?
 What causes obesity?
Can obesity result in cancer?
 Does obesity affect our health?
 What is bariatric surgery?
 Does obesity lead to infertility?

10.How do you prevent childhood obesity? 

It is essential to prevent childhood obesity. Moving more, cutting down sugar intake, eating foods from all food groups, getting adequate sleep and reducing screen time help in warding off childhood obesity.


The Information including but not limited to text, graphics, images and other material contained on this blog are intended for education and awareness only. No material on this blog is intended to be a substitute for professional medical help including diagnosis or treatment. It is always advisable to consult medical professional before relying on the content. Neither the Author nor Star Health and Allied Insurance Co. Ltd accepts any responsibility for any potential risk to any visitor/reader.

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