Obesity is not a term to throw around lightly. If you are obese, you are at a dangerous risk to all kinds of health complications, like heart disease. Contrarily, if you are just slightly overweight, you may actually live longer than your skinnier peers. One can be overweight and obese, but one can also be overweight and not obese. So let’s take a look at what obesity is so you can find out if you are obese and if so, what you can do about it.

Before looking at your particular weight, let’s look at obesity in general. A 2004 WebMD news article found that almost half of the states in America have let the new “obesity epidemic” run wild, as 23 states did not make policy or take any initiative whatsoever to combat the problem. And not even one state was given a rating of an “A” regarding its approach to the obesity problem. But what is the problem exactly?

Simply put, in the last twenty years, the cases of obesity have mushroomed (in 2004, over 30% of adults in the United States are obese). There has been much speculation about what this means for the health of Americans, but there have been little solutions put on the table. Perhaps the best way to cope with the endemic is to inform people about what obesity is and how they can control it on an individual basis.

Almost everybody has a basic grasp on how one gains weight – you eat a lot and do little. In other words, you consume more calories than you burn. But still people seem to find that shedding those extra pounds is a phenomenally difficult task. This is probably because in today’s society, people have little time to cook healthy meals and engage in physical activity. They are tied to office jobs where they must sit all day and are lured to fast food restaurants and exciting cable programming that keeps them sedentary. But a good wake up call might do just the trick to get people off their couches and outside at the park!

So are you obese? And if you were, would you be motivated to change your lifestyle?

According to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a person can determine how healthy their weight is by calculating their body mass index, or BMI. You might hate math, but don’t fret – determining your BMI won’t take long. You will need two numbers – your weight (in pounds) and your height (in inches). Now you must square your height. This means you multiply the number by itself. For example, if you are five feet and five inches, thus 65 inches, you will multiply 65 by 65, which equals 4225. Now, divide your weight by this number. So, if you weigh 130 pounds, you will divide 130 by 4225. The number you have come to at this point is a fraction. What do you do with it? You multiply it by 703 (the conversion factor). Finally, you have your BMI; the example yields a BMI of about 21.6.

So now you know what your BMI is. But what does it mean? What BMI means you’re healthy, overweight, underweight, or more importantly – obese? If your BMI is 18.5 or less, this means you are underweight. You need to put on some pounds! If your BMI is between 18.5 and 24.9, then you are at a healthy weight. However, if you calculated a BMI of 25 to 29.9, then you need to watch your weight, as you are overweight. Still, you’re not obese and shouldn’t panic. Now, if your BMI exceeds 30, then you are considered obese.

You body mass index is not an all-revealing number, however. It’s recommended that you talk to your physician about your weight concerns. Still, calculating your BMI can point you in the right direction and perhaps get you to make that doctor’s appointment in the first place. A major reason a BMI is not totally reliable is because it doesn’t take into consideration muscle weight. Surprisingly, muscle is actually heavier than fat, so a person who has a lot of muscle and is in great shape may calculate a BMI that is misleading.

If you are curious about your child or teenager’s weight, do not approach it in the same way as discussed above. You will use the basic BMI formula, but you won’t immediately jump to a conclusion after making the calculation. Children and teenagers are changing so much on a daily basis that a healthy BMI for a 16-year-old girl may not be a healthy BMI for an eight-year-old boy. The adult BMI doesn’t account for age or sex, while the BMI-for-age does. Once you’ve calculated your child’s BMI, you must then investigate to see what percentile your child lands in. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has charts you can refer to. Essentially, however, the BMI should put your child in the 5th to 85th percentile. If it’s below the 5th, your child may be underweight. If it exceeds the 85th, your child could be at a risk of overweight and all the health problems that go with it. Especially if your child’s BMI puts him or her in the 95th percentile, you should take notice. Children and teens are never categorized as obese but you can prevent obesity later in life by helping them to eat right and exercise today.

If you’ve just discovered you are obese, don’t worry. You are not alone and there are plenty of small steps you can take that can drastically improve your life and ultimately your physical and mental wellbeing.

First, talk to your doctor and decide upon a goal for a healthy weight. There may be drugs your doctor will prescribe to help you lose weight but don’t expect them to magically transform you into a swimsuit model and before agreeing to any prescription, research your options. Almost all diet pills and anti-obesity drugs have alarming side effects and some of them can be deadly.

Beyond a doctor’s visit, there are some changes you can make in your life at this very minute. Don’t get too pumped up and overexert yourself at the gym. Simply start incorporating physical activity into your day-to-day routine. Start walking the dog or turn your household chores into a work out session! In addition to this, start recording what you eat and how many calories you are consuming. Once you have this information, you can find out where all that weight (literally) is coming from and you can then change your eating habits. For example, if you’ve been going through a fast food drive-thru window every week, why not go once a month instead? Or better yet, why not say goodbye to that drive-thru window for ever?

It’s not easy to develop new habits and you may need help to get your weight under control, but once you know there’s a problem, you will find that it’s all the more easy to fix.


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