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Weight LossObesity is more than just being overweight. It is not a question of needing to lose a few pounds. (Read about "Losing Weight") Obesity is instead defined as having an excessively high amount of body fat. Another measure of obesity is body mass index (BMI). This is a ratio of weight to height. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) say adults with a BMI (Read about "Body Mass Index") greater than or equal to 30 are considered obese. A BMI between 25 and 30 is considered overweight. In children, the interpretation of BMI depends on the child's age and sex and is plotted on gender-specific growth charts. (Read about "Childhood Weight Issues")

Calculate BMIYou can use our calculator to determine your BMI. To check the results, or if the calculator won't work on your computer, just refer to this table.

The number of Americans considered obese is on the rise. CDC says the number has nearly doubled from approximately 15 percent in 1980 to over 30 percent in recent years. The American Society for Bariatric Surgery (ASBS) says morbid obesity (which is defined by ASBS as a BMI of 40 or more or 100 pounds overweight) is a major public health risk, affecting over four million Americans. And it is not just a problem for adults. According to CDC, the percentage of children and teens that are overweight has tripled in the past 30 years. Today, over 18 percent of American adolescents are considered obese, according to CDC.

Health risks

Obesity increases the risks that you will develop any number of health problems. CDC says they include:

Many obese people need a combination of diet, exercise and sometimes weight-loss drugs. In some cases of severe obesity, gastrointestinal surgery may be recommended. Psychological counseling may also be needed, for example, if obesity is associated with an eating disorder such as binge eating. (Read about "Eating Disorders")

Diet and exercise

The key to losing weight is to take in fewer calories than you use up - in other words to eat less and exercise more. Sounds easy, but as anyone who's tried to lose weight knows, it's not that simple. There are some things you can do to make it easier.

The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) says you should also check with your doctor, especially if you have more than 20 pounds to lose. That's because the risk for developing gallstones (Read about "Gallstones") increases with quick weight loss or a large weight loss.

Weight loss programs

Some people can change their lifestyle on their own. But for many obese people, there's a need for a more formal program. If you decide to enroll in such a program, NIDDK says to look for one with:

Cost is another issue to consider. Some plans have sign-up fees and/or weekly charges. You should also investigate the training and qualifications of staff. In addition, NIDDK says that if you have medical problems, or if you are severely overweight, you should look for programs run by trained health professionals. They can monitor you for possible side effects of weight loss and talk to your doctor if necessary.


Sometimes obesity cannot be treated by diet and exercise alone. NIDDK says gastrointestinal surgery or bariatric surgery (Read about "Bariatric Surgery") can be the best option for people who are severely obese and cannot lose weight by traditional means or who suffer from serious obesity-related health problems. By severely obese, NIDDK means having a BMI of over 40, or being at least 80-100 pounds overweight.

Digestive SystemSurgery basically works by reducing the amount of food absorbed during the digestive process. (Read about "Digestive System") Normally, digestion starts as we chew and swallow our food, and the food moves down the esophagus to the stomach. The stomach can hold about 3 pints of food at one time. When the stomach contents move to the duodenum, the first segment of the small intestine, digestion speeds up. Most of the iron and calcium in the foods we eat is absorbed in the duodenum. The jejunum and ileum, the remaining two segments of the nearly 20 feet of small intestine, complete the absorption of almost all calories and nutrients. The food particles that cannot be digested in the small intestine are stored in the large intestine until eliminated.

Bariatric surgery alters this process. There are several types of surgery, each with its own benefits and risks. ASBS says the surgeries fall into different categories:

Surgery to produce weight loss is a serious undertaking. Side effects can include nausea, dehydration and constipation. (Read about "Dehydration" "Constipation") Rapid gastric emptying or dumping syndrome is also common, especially if you do not follow your doctor's diet directions. (Read about "Rapid Gastric Emptying") Anyone thinking about surgery should understand what the operation involves. Patients and physicians should carefully consider the following benefits and risks. It's also important to note that success is possible only with maximum cooperation and commitment to behavioral change and lifelong medical follow-up. (Read about "Learn About Your Procedure")


NIDDK says weight-loss medications may be appropriate for carefully selected patients who are at significant medical risk because of their obesity. They are not recommended for people who are only mildly overweight unless they have health problems that are made worse by their weight. These medications should not be used only to improve appearance.

One type of weight loss medication helps to promote weight loss by altering brain chemicals that affect mood and appetite, which can lead to a decrease in appetite and an increase in feeling full after eating. (Read about "The Brain") Another type of weight loss medication blocks the digestion and absorption of fat in your stomach and intestines. People respond differently to weight-loss medications, and some people experience more weight loss than others. NIDDK says the average weight loss is 5-22 pounds above what would be expected without using medications, and that maximum weight loss usually occurs within 6 months of starting medication treatment.

If medications are used, they are not a substitute for healthier eating habits, but should be combined with physical activity and improved diet to lose and maintain weight successfully over the long-term. (Read about "Medicine Safety")

All Concept Communications material is provided for information only and is neither advice nor a substitute for proper medical care. Consult a qualified healthcare professional who understands your particular history for individual concerns.

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