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More than simply being overweight, obesity is a serious medical condition that can severely impact your overall health and well-being. Obesity also increases the risk for many other health conditions, including diabetes, heart disease and stroke.

The University of Kansas Health System offers a full range of supportive treatments for those with obesity, ranging from medically supported weight management programs to bariatric weight loss surgery. We also offer group support programs, nutrition counseling and advanced education to support you during your weight loss journey.

What is obesity?

Obesity is a medical definition based on body mass index (BMI). BMI measures body fat based on height compared to weight. A BMI of 30 or higher is considered obese, while a normal BMI range falls between 18.5 and 24.9.

Currently, it’s estimated that about 40% of Americans suffer from obesity. Although the effects of obesity can be far-reaching, obesity is a treatable, manageable disease that’s caused by a combination of different factors.

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Types of obesity

A person is considered to have obesity if their BMI is over 30. Within this range, obesity can be further divided into more specific types:

  • Low risk, or Class 1 obesity (BMI of 30 to < 35)
  • Moderate risk, or Class 2 obesity (BMI of 35 to < 40)
  • High risk, or Class 3 obesity (BMI of 40 or higher)

High-risk (Class 3) obesity is also sometimes called extreme, severe or morbid obesity. A BMI of 40.0 is also a standard guideline for identifying whether a person may be eligible for bariatric surgery.

For children with obesity, the definitions for obesity are based on BMI percentile rather than direct BMI. For a child or teen to be diagnosed with obesity, their BMI percentile range must be over 95%.

Obesity symptoms and risks

The effects and symptoms obesity has on the body are numerous:

  • Back pain
  • Excess body fat, especially around the waist
  • Fatigue
  • Heavy sweating
  • Inability to perform physical tasks
  • Insomnia
  • Joint pain

In addition to the physical symptoms of obesity, being severely overweight can have a negative impact psychologically. Obesity can also lead to increased anxiety and depression, as well as disordered eating patterns.

The risks of developing obesity can be any combination of genetic, metabolic, hormonal, environmental and lifestyle factors. Ultimately, however, excessive weight gain happens when more calories are taken in than the body can burn through normal daily activities and exercising. Obesity can sometimes also occur due to certain underlying medical conditions, such as from a side effect of medication taken for a different health condition.

Obesity diagnosis and screening

Your doctor can diagnose obesity based on a physical evaluation that includes measuring your BMI, along with taking your full medical history. The biggest risk factor for obesity is being overweight, which is medically defined as a BMI range between 25.0 to <30. Taking steps to prevent additional weight gain is the best defense against obesity.

If you are diagnosed with obesity, your doctor may recommend further tests to check whether obesity may be contributing to (or resulting from) other symptoms or related health conditions.

Obesity treatment

Treating obesity typically includes a combination of approaches that work together to help you reach and maintain a weight goal that falls within the normal BMI range (18.5 to <25). This typically begins with a goal of 5-10% weight loss overall.

Obesity treatment options may include:

  • Behavioral changes that begin by evaluating your current habits and lifestyle and understanding the factors that may have contributed to your obesity. Modifying these behaviors can be easier with the help of a counselor and/or obesity support groups.
  • Dietary changes such as calorie reduction, eating more fruits and vegetables, lowering sugar and carbohydrate intake, or considering meal replacement options. Our nutritional counselor can help you develop new dietary habits that work for you.
  • Lifestyle changes that include increased activity levels as well as exercising regularly. Small changes like parking the car farther away from a store entrance or taking the stairs rather than the elevator can add up to burning more calories.
  • Prescription weight loss medication may be recommended by your doctor to supplement the dietary, lifestyle and behavioral changes you’re making.

Bariatric weight loss surgery is another option for treating obesity. Typically, weight loss surgery is recommended only for those with severe obesity in combination with a serious underlying health condition. However, even if you are a good candidate for weight loss surgery, you still need to be committed to making the other changes that are necessary to maintain a healthy weight.

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