as a Disease

Research into, and our understanding of overweight and obesity has progressed significantly over the last decade, and obesity is now widely recognised to be a chronic, relapsing and progressive disease process. This understanding of obesity sees it classified in a similar light to that of many other common chronic diseases like arthritis, asthma and even cancer.

We define obesity as the excess accumulation of body fat, affecting the health of the individual. Importantly, obesity is often linked to a range of other diseases including diabetes, heart disease and even cancers.

Obesity & Health. The size of the problem. 63% of Australian adults are overweight or obese. They have 50-100% increased risk of premature death. Leading causes of obesity are genes, diet, lack of exercise, stress, medications, poor sleep and environmental factors. Obesity can lead to many health risks including type 2 diabetes, arthritis, PCOS, stroke, cancer and heart disease.

Defining Obesity

The most common measure used to define obesity is Body Mass Index (BMI). BMI is a somewhat crude measure which essentially takes a ratio of your weight to your height. A BMI greater than 25 is considered to be overweight, while a BMI greater than 30 is considered to be obese. Within the obese range, there are further classifications – Class I (BMI 30-35), Class II (BMI 35-40) and Class III (BMI 40+).

The Size of the Problem

The problem of overweight and obesity is large and growing, and more than 60% of Australians are now classified as either overweight or obese. Importantly, this number is even higher amongst males (and slightly lower amongst females). Perhaps most concerning though, is that more than one-quarter (28%) of children aged 5-17 are now overweight or obese.

Causes of Obesity

The causes of obesity are complex and exceedingly common. Most patients suffering from obesity exhibit a number of ‘risk factors’ which typically include:

  • The genes you inherited from your parents
  • How well your body turns food into energy
  • Your eating and exercising habits
  • Your surroundings
  • Psychological factors including stress
  • Your sleep habits
  • Many common medications including antidepressants and even some diabetes medications.

Major health risks

Compared to people of normal weight, obese people have a 50% to 100% increased risk of dying prematurely. Obesity is often linked to, and may ultimately lead to a range of other major health issues, including:

  • Diabetes
  • Joint problems (e.g., arthritis)
  • High blood pressure
  • Heart disease
  • Gallbladder problems
  • Certain types of cancer (breast, uterine, colon)
  • Digestive disorders (e.g., gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GORD)
  • Breathing difficulties (e.g., sleep apnea, asthma)
  • Psychological problems such as depression
  • Problems with fertility and pregnancy
  • Urinary Incontinence, and
  • Shorter Life Expectancy

Risks to psychological and social well-being

In addition to the many physical health issues which are commonly associated with overweight and obesity, it is generally accepted that this disease can have significant impact on a patient’s psychological and social well-being, including:

  • Negative self-image
  • Social isolation
  • Discrimination

Difficulties with day-to-day living

Normal day-to-day tasks can become harder when you are obese, as movement is more difficult. You tend to tire more quickly, and you may find yourself short of breath with even the most basic of activities. You may find it difficult to maintain personal hygiene, and social activities, public transport, cars and even telephone booths can be difficult to navigate.