The Meaning of Obesity

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Obesity and Its Definition

Obesity is a major health concern both in the United States of America and the world at large. This paper explores the meaning of obesity. It defines obesity as excessive body fat. The paper describes how obesity is determined and the various classes of obesity. The paper also identifies the leading causes of obesity, and it identifies them as intake of caloric foods, lack of physical exercise, environmental and genetic factors. The paper further explores the prevalence of obesity in America, and it finds that obesity prevalence in the US is increasingly high in both adults and children. The impacts of obesity are also explored in the paper where studies have shown that obesity leads to the development of chronic diseases early deaths and that thousands of people have died due to obesity-related complications. The paper finally discusses the measures that the US government has employed to prevent and treat obesity.

The U.S Department of Health and Human Services and its Priorities

The U.S Department of Health and Human Services gives priority to the following national/domestic health conditions in its objectives under the "Healthy people 2020";

1. Adolescent Health,

2. Blood Disorders and Blood Safety Dementias,

3. including Alzheimer's Disease,

4. Early and Middle Childhood,

5. Genomics,

6. Global Health,

7. Health-Related Quality of Life and Well-Being,

8. Healthcare-Associated Infections,

9. Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Health,

10. Older Adults, Preparedness,

11. Sleep Health, and

12. Social Determinants of Health.

In spite of obesity missing in the list of conditions prioritized in the healthy people 2020, it is also a national concern since it is part of the major health problems facing the United States of America (U.S Department of Health and Human Services, 2010, p1) .

Definition of Obesity

Obesity is a term used to describe excessive body fat. Obesity is believed to occur when the body burns lesser amounts of calories than the amount consumed in foods and beverages. The National Institute of Health has not issued formal standards that may define obesity based on the amount of an individual's body fat (Weight-control Information Network, 2011, p1). In spite of that, obesity can, however, be defined by the use of a tool known as the body mass index (BMI) that directly relates an individual's height to his weight, which is determined by dividing weight in pounds by height in inches and then multiplying it by 730. Obesity is defined by the National Institute of Health (NIH) as a BMI equal to or greater than 30. The NIH further breaks down obesity into three classes namely class(I) which is defined by a BMI between 30 to 34.9, class (II) which is characterized by a BMI of 35 to 39.9 and lastly class (III) defined by a BMI equal to or above 40. The NIH notes that men and women may have different body fat percentages even if they have the same BMI (Weight-control Information Network U.S, 2011, p1).

Causes of Obesity

In America, obesity is believed to be caused by lifestyle choices of most Americans, that is their eating and exercise habits. However, medical experts argue that a combination of factors such as genetic, environmental, behavioral, and emotional factors are the primary causes of obesity (NORC, 2016, p2). It is also agreeable amongst most experts that obesity is primarily caused by an imbalance between caloric intake and physical activity. Studies show that there is an upward trend in caloric intake and decrease in exercise in most Americans due to increased technology. Most Americans live a sedentary lifestyle, and it is estimated that approximately 40% of Americans do not engage themselves in any leisure-time physical activity. It is also evident that daily opportunities to burn calories due to environmental and cultural changes in America. For instance, the obesity epidemic among American children and adolescents is mostly due to lack of physical activities that are attributable to television viewing and the increasing popularity of computer games. Research has proven that at least 43% of American children and adolescents spend more than two hours each day watching television. Additionally, there is reduced physical activity among US children since there has been reduced physical education requirement in most schools due to budget constraints and other curricula demands. The decrease of physical activities among American children and adults can also be attributed to the use of labor-saving machinery to do household chores, overreliance on cars for most Americans, and an ever-increasing automated workplace (Salinsky and Scott, 2003, p5).

In addition to a sedentary lifestyle among most Americans, their eating habits have also contributed to the rise of obesity. Studies have proven that the obesity epidemic in the US is majorly caused by a high intake of high-fat and high-calorie foods. The increased consumption of foods that are high in sugar and fat is due to their availability and affordability. The intake of these foods has also contributed to the growth of the fast food industry and increased number and marketing of snack foods (Salinsky and Scott, 2003, p6).

Environmental and genetic factors that cause obesity are closely interdependent. For instance, the modern American lifestyle and its environment may make it difficult for a person with a genetic predisposition to obesity to control his or her weight. The modern American environment that has plenty of food and decreased physical activities among its people may affect people differently. This can be explained by scenarios where some people can gain a lot of weight while eating less food and others seem to eat much food but do not gain any weight. In spite of the genetic factors contributing to variations in body fatness, some researchers, however, argue that genes related to obesity cannot be solely responsible for the current obesity epidemic in the US since the gene pool in the US did not significantly change between 1980 and 1994 when the current rising obesity trend was first witnessed. They, therefore, argue that the current obesity epidemic is due to the decline in daily exercise and increased intake of caloric foods (Salinsky and Scott, 2003, p6).

Prevalence of Obesity in America

There has been an unmitigated rise in the prevalence of obesity in America over the last 50 years. The rise of obesity prevalence in America is associated with the availability of food and lack of restriction to its access. Studies show that the population of obese Americans has eclipsed nonobese Americans by twofold (Hruby and Hu, 2014, Prevalence and Trends). For instance, results from the survey conducted by the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) in 2007 and 2008 estimate that 34.2 % American adults overweight and 33.8% are obese while 5.7% are extremely obese (Ogden and Carroll, 2010). Studies, however, show some racial and ethnic disparities in obesity prevalence in American adults. For instance, the prevalence of obesity among non-Hispanic white men increased from 20.3% to 30.9% in the periods between 1988-1994 and 2007-2007. During the same periods, obesity prevalence among non-Hispanic black men rose from 21.1% to 37.3%. The similar trend was observed among Mexican-American men whose obesity prevalence rose from 23.9% to 35.9%. The pattern was also the same in women wherein 2007-2008, 49.6% non-Hispanic black women were obese compared to 33.0 % of non-Hispanic white women and 45.1% of Mexican American women (Ogden and Carroll, 2010, p1).

The prevalence of obesity in America is not only a preserve of the adults. American children are also victims of the obesity epidemic. Studies show that childhood obesity rates have tripled since 1989. For instance, obesity rates for children aged between six to eleven years have doubled from 7% to 17.5%. The rates have also quadrupled from 5% to 20.5% in teens aged twelve to nineteen. 8.9% young children aged between two to five years have also been found to be obese where 2% are extremely obese. Studies also show that obesity is also high in high school students where estimates show that in 37 states, 11 states had obesity rates of more than 15 percent and no state had a rate below 10 percent (Segal, Rayburn, and Martin, 2016, p7).

Impacts of Obesity

Obesity has not only affected America's waistline but has also contributed to severe illness and early deaths of many Americans. In addition to health, obesity also affects people's quality of life and their mental health. Obesity is the second leading cause of deaths that otherwise could be prevented. It is estimated that 300,000 deaths in America are as a result of obesity. Obesity is also considered as the leading cause of most chronic conditions such as high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and high cholesterol. Obesity is also attributed to some cancers such as cancers of the uterine, gallbladder, breast cancer, colon cancer, and cancer of the kidney. Studies also show that obesity also contributes to other conditions like sleep apnea, asthma, arthritis, reproductive complications. Furthermore, studies also attribute psychological disorders like depression to obesity (Salinsky and Scott, 2003, p7).

Obesity does not only have health implications. It also has economic impacts. The increasing obesity prevalence in America has also led to an increase in both direct and indirect care costs. Studies indicate that there is a continued increase in spending on obesity. It is estimated that more than 190 billion US dollars, representing approximately 21% of America's health expenditure, is used in the treatment of obesity and its related conditions (Hruby and Hu, 2014, 6.7 Economic Burden of Obesity). Of these costs, most of the expenses are on the treatment of chronic conditions such as diabetes and heart disease that could be otherwise prevented by regular physical activity (Salinsky and Scott, 2003, p8).

The obesity epidemic does not only have financial and health implications. Obesity also affects nursing. For instance, to offer proper care to obese patients, caregivers are required to have suitable and effective equipment and facilities. For example, health providers are required to install strong armless chairs that are raised. Their examining tables should be strong and bolted to the floor to avoid tipping. Health providers are also required to provide extra-large gowns to obese patients among other requirements (Weight-control Information Network, 2011, p2).

Prevention and Treatment of Obesity

Obesity being a national health concern, it requires intervention from various players including the federal government. The federal government has devised policies that respond to the obesity epidemic. For instance, the federal government has developed wellness and nutritional programs that help in the prevention and treatment of obesity. The government has also established policies that address societal issues that contribute to the increased obesity epidemic. For instance, the government has focused on information dissemination and education with the primary aim of changing attitudes and behaviors related to nutrition and physical activity. The US government has also introduced programs that assist its citizens in accessing healthy foods. Obesity and its consequences such as coronary heart diseases can also be prevented by engaging in physical activities. To prevent obesity, the government has, therefore, come up with policies that have made physical education a requirement in schools. Other strategies that encourage physical activities include zoning and investments in parks and recreational facilities. Lastly, people are encouraged to visit health facilities for routine screening for obesity and counseling for obese patients (Salinsky and Scott, 2003, p10).


Obesity is a national concern since it is part of the major health problems facing the United States of America today. Obesity can be defined as a term that describes excessive body fats, and it is measured using body mass index (BMI). According to studies, obesity is caused by an imbalance between caloric intake and physical activities. Obesity is also believed to be caused by other factors such as environmental and genetic factors. The prevalence of the obesity epidemic has been soaring for the past fifty years, and a significant number of Americans, both adults, and children, are today affected by obesity. The increasing prevalence of obesity in America has had various impacts, where most Americans have now affected by chronic conditions such as diabetes and heart conditions which have led to several early deaths. Obesity is, however, preventable and treatable, and the US government has developed some policies that will help in mitigating the obesity epidemic in the US.


Hruby, A., & Hu, F. B. (2014). The Epidemiology of Obesity: A Big Picture. PharmacoEconomics, 33(7), 673-689. doi:10.1007/s40273-014-0243-x

NORC at the University of Chicago. (2016). Obesity Rises to Top Health Concern for Americans, But Misperceptions Persist (75). Retrieved from NORC at the University of Chicago website:

Ogden, C. L., & Carroll, M. D. (2010). Prevalence of Overweight, Obesity, and Extreme Obesity Among Adults: United States, Trends 1960–1962 Through 2007–2008. Retrieved from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention CDC website:

Salinsky, E., & Scott, W. (2003). Obesity in America: A Growing Threat. Retrieved from National Health Policy Forum website:

Segal, L. M., Rayburn, J., & Martin, A. (2016). The State of Obesity: Better Policies for a Healthier America. Retrieved from Trust for America’s Health TFAH website:

U.S Department of Health and Human Services. (2010, December 2). HHS announces the nation’s new health promotion and disease prevention agenda. Retrieved from

Weight-control Information Network (U.S.). (2011). Medical care for patients with obesity. Bethesda, MD: U.S. Dept. of Health and Huiman Services, National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, Weight Control Information Network.

October 13, 2023




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