Medical quality assurance by Dr. Albrecht Nonnenmacher, MD at December 17, 2015

Obesity is a major problem for millions of people in the world. Being obese or simply overweight is caused by many different things, from genetics to diet. Fortunately, there are many options for treatment and prevention for obesity; mostly, it's up to each individual to ensure they are making the right choices to keep themselves at a healthy weight.


Definition & Facts

When a person is overweight, it means that their body mass exceeds the recommended healthy weight for their height and age. A person is considered obese when their body weight is at least 20% higher than is considered healthy. An individual is considered overweight when their body mass index or BMI is between 25-30.

A person's BMI measures body weight by comparing their height and weight. Generally, the higher the number, the more body fat a person will have. It is worth noting that there are many factors which can determine what someone's BMI is; for instance, a person with a lot of muscle mass may still weigh a lot, but it's not neccesarily fat that is making them heavier, but the lean muscle.


There are a great many things that cause someone to be overweight or obese. The most common cause is poor diet. People have a higher chance of gaining weight if they are not getting the proper nutrition they need, or if they regularly eat in excess. The average western diet far exceeds the daily recommended calorie and fat recommendations, soemtimes in a single meal or even dish.

There are also some medical conditions that can cause unintentional weight gain in an individual. Medical conditions that commonly cause weight gain are hypothyroidism and other autoimmune disorders, diabetes, cushing's syndrome, and even depression.

In women, weight gain is common with pregnancy, postpartum depression, and hormonal changes such as menopause. There are a lot of medications that can make someone overweight, as well. These medications include birth control, steroids, antidepressants, seizure medication, and blood pressure drugs.

When to see a doctor

Normally, weight gain happens for understandable reasons, such as pregnancy or a few weeks of bad eating choices. When this happens, it's probably not important to see a doctor. If, however, the weight does not respond to adjustments in habits, if there is a rapid weight gain in a short period of time, it may be a good idea to set up an appointment.

If an individual has been overweight or obese for an extended period of time, they may also want to see a physician. Being overweight or obese can be dangerous for a person's body, and can cause other conditions or issues.

Treatment & Therapy

When someone visits a doctor because of their weight, the physician will perform exams and tests as well as discuss their health history and lifestyle habits to determine the cause of weight gain. If someone is overweight because of a medical condition, treatment will most likely be a combination of treatment of the disorder as well as a plan for changing lifestyle habits.

If someone's weight is being influenced by a medication, a doctor can help them figure out a different medication plan. A doctor may send an overweight or obese person to see a dietician or nutritionist, to help determine a proper eating plan to help with weight loss. If someone is extremely overweight, they may be considered eligible for surgical procedures that can assist with weight loss, such as gastric bypass surgery. With these weight reduction surgeries, a surgeon will alter a person's stomach or intestines; these procedures limit the amount of food that can be eaten at a time, greatly reducing the ability to overeat.

For hormone-related weight problems such as menopause or estrogen dominance, a woman may benefit from using a progesterone cream or prescription pill to help maintain weight. Some women may want to avoid birth control if they have noticed it causes them to gain weight easily. In most cases, lifestyle changes may be all that is necessary to lose weight. Improving diet, cutting calories, and incorporating exercise will lead to weight loss and in general, a higher quality of life.

Prevention & Prophylaxis

Preventing weight gain requires mindfulness of food choices as well as maintaining an active lifestyle. Movement is important for maintaining a healthy weight. It doesn't have to be extreme workouts; just being more active, taking walks, and making sure to take time every hour to move around will help.

This is especially important for those people who work in an office or some other setting where they are either sitting or don't move much throughout the day. However, the most important thing an individual can do for preventing weight gain or losing weight is watching the quality of food they consume. Diets high in carbohydrates, meat, starches, sugar, and salt are dangerous and can lead to many problems beside obesity, including heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and more.

Eating a diet high with a good balance of protein and carbohydrates, as well as low sugar and salt, is important for maintaining a healthy weight. Food should be nutrient dense and minimally processed to avoid chemicals and additives which can slow the metabolism and increase cravings. Eating fresh, whole foods will provide the daily required vitamins and minerals a person should get for a healthy and functional metabolism.

Sugar is especially important to keep at a minimum; sugary drinks and coffees can add hundreds of empty calories to an individual's daily diet. It's also important to drink the right amount of water every day. It should go without saying that water is extremely important to good health. Dehydration can make it difficult to lose weight or for body functions to work correctly.

If someone goes ahead with surgery to help with weight loss, it's very important to follow all rules and instructions carefully, as well as continue with check-ups and other doctor visits to assure a healthy weight loss. In general, it is wise to see a doctor regularly and be conscious about what food is consumed daily for optimal health.

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