Obesity is more than some excess weight that a person has due to their eating habits. In reality, this condition is more complex and presents a combination of medical, psychological, and behavioral factors. Although the DSM-5 manual does not recognize obesity as a psychological disorder, it is still a medical condition that requires attention both from the patient and their care provider. Due to the fact that this is a complex problem, a combination of different approaches is necessary to treat obesity. This paper will examine the issue of obesity from a medical perspective and discuss its causes, symptoms, treatment methods, and other factors related to this condition.
Definition of Obesity
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) (2021a) defines this health condition as having a weight that is higher than the expected amount for a given age group and gender. Extreme cases of excess weight are easy to identify visually. However, this condition is not merely a cosmetic issue (Mayo Clinic, 2020). Moreover, obesity is linked to personal dietary and exercise choices as well as genetics, which makes it difficult to treat. Notably, obesity is linked to mental health problems, such as depression. More specifically, studies report that adults with obesity have a higher prevalence rate of depression, and 43% of obese adults were diagnosed with depression (Ma et al., 2019). Hence, this condition affects not only the physical appearance and health of individuals but also their mental wellbeing.
Why Obesity Is a Problem
According to the CDC (2021b), “obesity is a common, serious and costly chronic disease” (para. 1).
Between 2017 and 2018, 42% of adults in the United States were diagnosed with obesity (CDC, 2021b, para. 1). Moreover, the trends over the years show that the number of people with obesity and severe obesity contributes to an increase. It is a problem since a large amount of excess weight has multiple negative effects on a person’s physical health, mental state, and life expectancy. For example, some preventable conditions such as heart disease, cancers, type II diabetes, and stroke (CDC, 2021b). Hence, addressing obesity is necessary because it has several negative effects on a person’s health and wellbeing.
In contemporary medical practice, obesity is diagnosed by using the body mass index (BMI). Although this metric has been criticized for its insufficiency, it does allow doctors to have a quantitative tool for assessing the patient’s weight. The index of body mass that is over 30 is considered obesity (CDC, 2021a). Moreover, there are three classes of obesity, the third one being extreme obesity, where people’s BMI is over 40. Hence, a high BMI over 30 is the main symptom that allows clinicians to diagnose obesity. Notably, the CDC (2021a) warns against using BMI as a primary assessment measure of a person’s health. This screening tool is used only to define weight status and does not show whether an individual is healthy, and additional tests and diagnostics are necessary.
Obesity is a complex disease, and its development has been linked to several factors, including psychological, genetic, and biological elements. However, the underlying principle that causes a person to gain weight is their energy balance, the correlation between the intake of calories and the body’s energy expenditure. Simply put, the body receives the nutrients it needs to sustain itself and allow the organs to function from food. However, if the amount of nutrients a person intakes exceed their needs, the excess is stored as fat (Ma et al., 2019). Any of the three basic macronutrients, which are fat, protein, and carbohydrates, can be transformed into fat, which means that ultimately, gaining excess weight does not depend on a specific type of food. Hence, the first and most significant cause of obesity is improper energy balance, where the intake of calories substantially exceeds the expenditure.
According to Mayo Clinic (2020), “genetic, behavioral, metabolic and hormonal influences on body weight” are linked to obesity (para. 6). An important thing to consider when reviewing obesity as a pandemic in the modern world is the easy access to a variety of foods that people in developed countries have and the large amounts of sugar or fat in these foods. Hence, environmental factors also play a role in the way people perceive food and their dietary habits.
Obesity is not included in the most recent edition of the DSM manual. According to Griffiths et al. (2017), there has been a debate on whether this condition should be viewed as a psychological problem, but the presence of the environmental and genetic factors that contribute to the development of obesity was the main factor that led scholars to exclude obesity. However, it contains comorbid psychological conditions that may lead to obesity, for example, Binge eating disorder. This condition is characterized by an uncontrollable desire to eat, which is not linked to physical hunger. Evidently, this may lead to an excess intake of calories and subsequent weight gain.
Development Across Lifespan
Obesity is not linked to a particular age, although the CDC (221a) warns about the increasing presence of childhood obesity in the United States. Another factor is the natural tendency to gain weight as a person ages, which is linked to metabolism slowing down. Hence, any individual can be affected by obesity, but it becomes more difficult to manage weight as the person ages. Moreover, Giorgi (2019) states that this condition significantly reduces the life expectancy of an individual. This is associated mainly with the many comorbid conditions that develop alongside obesity.
Unfortunately, despite obesity being a common and life-threatening condition, there is no single cure or medication for it that would guarantee the patients are losing weight and retaining normal health. Recent studies advocate for the integration of behavioral therapy with increased physical activity and correction of eating habits (Ma et al., 2019). Notably, most weight-loss interventions require substantial time to see the results. For example, the duration of the study by Ma et al. (2019) was twelve months. Apart from losing weight, which is the goal of the treatment, most patients may struggle with maintaining their results and not gaining their excess weight back (Ma et al., 2019). This is another reason why therapies that target behaviors and habits have been the preferred choice of researchers and clinicians in recent years.
There is a number of celebrities who have obesity, including actors, former athletes, and singers. A prominent example is Melissa McCarthy, an actress famous for “Gilmore Girls,” “Mike and Molly,” “Bridesmaids,” and many other films or TV series. Meeuf (2017) argues that McCarthy is one example of a celebrity that advocates against fat-shaming and other harmful practices that may adversely affect a person’s mental health. Although obesity is a public health concern, McCarty argues that mainstream media define obesity as a person’s failure and inability to control themselves (Meeuf, 2017). Instead, the narrative should change to acknowledge that obesity is a medical concern but is caused by a variety of factors, apart from dietary and exercise habits. This message is also important for healthcare providers who work with obese adults.
In summary, this paper examines the health problem of obesity. In general terms, it is the excess weight that is greater than the expected amount for the given age group. BMI is typically used for diagnostics, and the rate of 30 or higher is considered obesity. Obesity can be caused by overeating but is also linked to genetics and hormones. Although DSM-5 does not have this particular condition, it classifies Binge Eating, which may be connected to obesity. Melissa McCarthy is an example of a celebrity who is obese but advocates for adequate social perceptions of this condition.
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Ma, J., Rosas, L., Lv, N., Xiao, L., Snowden, M., & Venditti, E. (2019). Effect of integrated behavioral weight loss treatment and problem-solving therapy on Body Mass Index and depressive symptoms among patients with obesity and depression. JAMA, 321(9), 869. Web.
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