Weight Management Basics

According to the National Center for Health statistics about two third of the population are overweight and about 33 percent are obese. Obesity is the number two killer in the United States. Obesity can present many health problems including heart disease, non insulin dependent diabetes, high blood pressure, arthritis, various forms of cancer, pregnancy risks and sleep disorders.

Often the terms overweight and obese are used interchangeably, but they actually have different meanings. Overwight means a body weight that is above a population weight for height standard. Obesity is a clinical term that is generally applied to a person who is 20% or more above ideal weight. Obesity refers to excess body fat that frequently results in impairment of health. Underweight also can present health risks.

To define an ideal weight is not an easy task. Every individual is a unique human being and thus the values for the ideal weight vary over a wide range. Age also plays a key role in setting a reasonable body weight. Therefore what is really important is the body composition. It would be more precise to talk about fatness and leanness. A football player can be overweight, but most of his weight is muscle mass and not excess fat.

The traditional determination of ideal weight was based on standard weight tables and was not very accurate. Today Body Mass Index (BMI) is mostly used as an indicator of body composition. Body Mass Index is your weight (in kilograms) divided by height (in meters) squared. A BMI of greater than 27.2 in men and 26.9 in women indicates the need for weight reduction. BMI does not apply to children, adolescents who are still growing, adults over 65, pregnant and lactating women and highly muscular individuals.

The causes of obesity have been identified as energy imbalance, lack of physical activity, genetic and family factor, physiologic and psychological factors. Achieving a balance between the food energy you take in and the energy you expend through physical activity is required for long term weight management. Genetic inheritance probably influences a person's chances of becoming fat more than any other factor. Exercise helps with lowering a higher genetic setting for body fat. Family eating patterns reinforce the genetic predisposition. Early in life many of us develop dietary habits that become deeply ingrained. As for the physiologic factors, the fat cell theory states that the amount of body fat an individual carries whether through inheritance or eating habits, is determined by the number and size of fat cells in the body. Once the body has added fat cells, they remain and store varying amounts of fat. Emotional stress affects the eating patterns of many people. Social pressures also may contribute to eating disorders.

Achieving and maintaining a healthy weight is a life long process that requires us to change our eating habits, level of physical activity and our behavior.

If long range success is to be achieved, behavior modification is of utmost importance. Behavior modification activities should be directed toward control of eating behavior and physical activity to increase energy output. Our minds have an important role in our well being and health. Emotional risk factors could be as important as physical risk factors. Stress reduction exercises could be part of our behavior modification activities. Diet should be thought as our basic daily food intake and not a special project that we do on occasion to lose a few pounds and then return to the same habitual way of living. If we wish to change our weight permanently, we must change our lifestyle.