Obesity is a medical condition under which the fatty tissue accumulates excessively leading to a negative effect on the health of the individual. It is determined by means of the so-called Body Mass Index (BMI) and further assessments that describe the distribution of fat and the number of cardiovascular risk factors. The body mass index is closely correlated both to the percentage of body fat as well as to fat in total. With regard to children, the ideal weight varies depending on the age and sex. Rather than described as an absolute value, obesity in children and adolescents is defined in relation to a historical normal cluster. In this way the obesity is diagnosed when BMI is greater than the 95 percentile.


At the individual level, in most of the cases the primary cause of obesity is the combination of excessive calorie intake and the lack of physical activity. A limited number of cases are also prompted by genetics, health reasons, or psychiatric illnesses. In contrast, at the community level, a growing rate of obesity is usually linked to easily accessible and attractive diet options as well as to an increased sedentary lifestyle. A recent study has identified ten other possible factors that have contributed to the recent rise in obesity at a global level:
  • lack of sleep;
  • endocrine disruptors (environmental pollutants that interfere with lipid metabolism);
  • decreased variability in environmental temperature;
  • decrease in smoking, because smoking suppresses appetite;
  • increased use of medications that can cause gaining weight (e.g., atypical antipsychotics);
  • proportional increase of the ethnic groups;
  • pregnancy in later life;
  • epigenetic risk factors of past generations;
  • natural selection for a higher body mass index (Keith Redden and Katzmarzyk, 2006).

Although there is concrete evidence that an increasing prevalence of obesity is linked to the above described factors, the evidence is still inconclusive, and the authors state that these are probably less weighty reasons as compared to dietary and physical activities.

Excessive weight gain is often associated with numerous health effects. The most common are:
  • cardiovascular disorders (hypertension, elevated triglycerides and cholesterol in the blood);
  • endocrine disorders (diabetes of type II, Cushing’s syndrome);
  • gastroenterologic disorders (fatty liver, gallstones);
  • respiratory disorders (fatigue, breath, sleep apnea and asthma);
  • osteoarticular disorders;
  • psychosocial disorders.


The main treatment for obesity consists of diet and physical exercise. Careful dietary programs can help to lose weight in the short term, but it is often difficult to maintain them as they constantly require exercising and proper nutrition. The success rates of weight maintenance with changes in lifestyle on the long run have values ranging from 2% to 20%.


SIO - Italian Society for Obesity: www.sio.it-obesita.org


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