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Canadian Med Center

Understanding Obesity: Causes, Health Risks, and Treatment

Thursday 11 April 2024
6 minute(s) read

Table of Contents

I. What is Obesity?

II. Health Risks Associated With Obesity

III. Causes of Obesity

IV. Treating Obesity

i. Lifestyle Changes

ii. Weight Loss Medications

V. Conclusion

Obesity is a complex health issue influenced by many factors. While there are no easy answers, understanding the problem is key to finding solutions. 

In this article, we will explore obesity in depth. We will define obesity, discuss the serious health risks associated with obesity, examine the complex causes that contribute to obesity, and review the current treatment options available.

What is Obesity?

Obesity is a complex condition that develops when someone carries too much body fat for their height. It affects both children and adults. [1]

The most common way to determine if your weight is healthy is to calculate your body mass index (BMI). BMI uses your height and weight to estimate your body fat. [1]

In adults, a BMI of:

  • Below 18.5 indicates being underweight
  • Between 18.5 and 24.9 is considered a healthy weight
  • Between 25 and 29.9 is categorized as overweight
  • Between 30 and 39.9 is considered obese
  • 40 or higher is considered severely obese [1]

For children, BMI needs to account for age as well since their bodies are still developing. [1]

While useful for most people, BMI has some limitations. BMI measures excess weight rather than excess fat. So, athletes or others with a lot of muscle mass may have a high BMI without much fat. Still, BMI is a good indication of a healthy weight for the general population. [1]

Health Risks Associated With Obesity

a man with obesity visiting a doctor

Being overweight or obese is not just about carrying excess weight; it can lead to numerous health complications that can be life-threatening if not managed properly. [2]

Apart from putting strain on your bones and organs, a high ratio of body fat to muscle can also increase inflammation in the body, which is a risk factor for various types of cancer. In particular, obesity is known to be a major risk factor for type 2 diabetes, which can significantly impact your quality of life. [2]

Studies have shown that obesity is linked to a wide range of health issues, including:

Moreover, living with obesity can cause several day-to-day challenges, such as:

  • Breathlessness
  • Increased sweating
  • Sleep apnea
  • Difficulty with physical activity
  • Feeling tired
  • Joint pain
  • Back pain
  • Low confidence
  • Depression
  • Feeling isolated [2]

Causes of Obesity

At its core, obesity occurs when you take in more calories than you burn through activity and exercise over a prolonged period. The excess calories accumulate over time and lead to weight gain. [2]

However, obesity is not always a simple equation of calories in versus calories out. Obesity can be caused by a variety of factors, some within your control and some outside of it. Some other factors that can lead to excess weight gain include:

  • Genetics: Some people have genes that make it more likely for them to gain weight and body fat. This can affect how your body processes food into energy and how fat is stored. 
  • Lack of sleep: Not getting enough sleep can disrupt hormone levels in a way that triggers hunger and cravings for high-calorie foods. Ongoing sleep deprivation makes it challenging to maintain a healthy weight.
  • Pregnancy: During pregnancy, many women gain weight that may be difficult to lose postpartum. Retaining pregnancy weight can contribute to obesity later in life.
  • High stress levels: High stress over extended periods prompts the body to produce hormones that stimulate appetite and fat storage. Managing stress is an important part of weight management. [2]

Several health conditions are also associated with weight gain and obesity:

  • Metabolic syndrome refers to a group of risk factors like high blood pressure, high blood sugar, high triglycerides, low HDL cholesterol, and excess belly fat that increase your chance of health problems.
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) can cause hormonal imbalances, leading to weight gain.

Treating Obesity

a woman making a healthy meal

Losing weight when you have obesity can seem daunting, but there are effective ways to reach a healthier weight. The first step is to make an appointment with your family doctor to discuss your goals.

Your doctor can work with you to develop a tailored treatment plan that fits your needs and lifestyle. They can also ensure you’re losing weight safely. This plan may include lifestyle changes and medication. 

Lifestyle Changes

Small changes in your daily routine can make a big difference in reaching your weight loss goals. Your primary care physician can help assemble a team that includes nutritionists, therapists, and other healthcare professionals to create sustainable lifestyle changes personalized to your needs.

Some examples of positive changes to implement:

  • Work with a dietician or nutritionist to develop healthy eating habits you can maintain long-term. Focus on balanced, nutritious meals and snacks that align with your preferences and schedule.
  • Establish a consistent exercise regimen that fits into your daily routine, aiming for 150 to 300 minutes per week. Start slow with activities you enjoy and increase intensity over time.
  • Join a support group or seek counseling to help you identify triggers, manage stress, and cope with conditions like anxiety, depression, or emotional eating. Ongoing support can help you overcome obstacles. [2]

Weight Loss Medications

Weight loss can be a challenging journey. If diet and exercise alone haven't helped you reach your goals, your doctor may consider prescription medications as an additional tool. These are generally only prescribed for people with a BMI of 27 or higher, plus obesity-related health conditions. [3]

Prescription weight loss drugs work by either decreasing your appetite or preventing fat absorption. Some examples are:

  • Semaglutide (Wegovy)
  • Liraglutide (Saxenda)
  • Naltrexone and bupropion (Contrave)
  • Orlistat (Xenical) [3]

Before starting any of these medications, it is crucial to provide your prescribing doctor with a detailed medical history. This will help them determine if the medication is suitable for you and if any adjustments need to be made. Furthermore, your doctor will closely monitor you throughout the treatment, ensuring that any potential side effects are managed effectively, and your overall risks are minimized.


Obesity is a complex health issue with no single or simple solution. However, understanding the contributing factors and health risks is an important first step.

While genetics and biology play a role, lifestyle factors like diet, exercise, and stress also impact weight gain and metabolic health. The good news is that small, sustainable changes to daily habits can have a big impact over time.

For those struggling with obesity or weight-related health problems, support from healthcare providers, nutritionists, therapists, or support groups can help tailor an effective weight management plan.

There are many resources available to learn more about obesity, its causes, and potential solutions. Our obesity blog covers these topics in detail for those interested in learning more.

The content in this article is intended for informational purposes only. This website does not provide medical advice. In all circumstances, you should always seek the advice of your physician and/or other qualified health professionals(s) for drug, medical condition, or treatment advice. The content provided on this website is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.