Health Condition

Weight Loss and Obesity

About This Condition

About two-thirds of the adult U.S. population is overweight.1 Almost one-third not only exceeds ideal weight, but also meets the clinical criteria for obesity. In the 1990s, rates of obesity more than doubled, and are currently rising by over 5% per year.2,3 Excess body weight is implicated as a risk factor for many different disorders, including heart disease, diabetes, several cancers (such as breast cancer in postmenopausal women, and cancers of the uterus, colon, and kidney), prostate enlargement (BPH), female infertility, uterine fibroids, and gallstones, as well as several disorders of pregnancy, including gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, and gestational hypertension.4 The location of excess body fat may affect the amount of health risk associated with overweight. Increased abdominal fat, which can be estimated by waist size, may be especially hazardous to long-term health.5,6

For overweight women, weight loss can significantly improve physical health. A four-year study of over 40,000 women found that weight loss in overweight women was associated with improved physical function and vitality as well as decreased bodily pain.7 The risk of death from all causes, cardiovascular disease, cancer, or other diseases increases in overweight men and women in all age groups.8 Losing weight and keeping it off is, unfortunately, very difficult for most people.9,10 However, repeated weight loss followed by weight regain may be unhealthy, as it has been associated with increased heart disease risk factors and bone loss in some studies.11,12 Rather than focusing on weight loss as the most important health outcome of a change in diet or lifestyle, some doctors advocate paying more attention to overall fitness and reduction in known risk factors for heart disease and other health hazards.13

Excess body mass has the one advantage of increasing bone mass—a protection against osteoporosis. Probably because of this, researchers have been able to show that people who successfully lose weight have greater loss of bone compared with those who do not lose weight.14 People who lose weight should, therefore, pay more attention to preventing osteoporosis.

Other Therapies

Other treatment typically includes dietary changes to limit fat and calorie intake, increased exercise, and changes in eating habits or patterns. Severe cases might require surgical options to reduce the size of the stomach or to bypass a portion of the stomach and intestines.

Reducing Your Risk

To help keep you in top health, our experts recommend these steps:

  • Pick produce. Health experts note that people who eat more fiber-rich foods are able to maintain a healthier weight over time. Fresh vegetables and fruit make great snacks and can add to your daily fiber tally. Select Eating Right, above, for more information.
  • Rely on whole foods. Whole foods—those that look on your plate like they did when they came out of the ground or off the vine or tree—should form the basis of a healthy, weight maintenance diet. Select Vitamins, above, for more information.
  • Know your medications. Certain weight loss medication can have significant side effects. Talk to your healthcare provider before you take over-the-counter or prescription weight loss drugs so you know what to expect. Select Medicines, above, for more information.
  • Up your game. Regular physical activity is a key component of any healthy weight maintenance plan. A tool such as a pedometer to track daily steps taken, or heart rate monitor to help you find the proper workout intensity can keep you on track. Select Personal Care, above, for more ideas on tools for a healthier life.

Living With It

Our experts recommend the following tips to support a healthy body weight and a healthier you:

  • Keep it steady. Repeatedly losing and regaining weight can make it harder to achieve permanent weight loss success in the long run. Avoid crash diets, and instead find a sensible, moderate plan you can live with...permanently. Select Eating Right, above, for more information.
  • Evaluate the options. There are dozens of weight loss products in the supplement aisle, but not all have the research to back their claims. Know what
    you’re using, and beware of unproven weight-loss products that may have unwanted side effects without the main effect wanted. Select Vitamins, above, for more information.
  • Know your medications. Certain weight-loss medications have significant side effects. Learn the facts and know what to expect when using
    these products. If you’ve recently started a new medication and are gaining weight, ask your doctor if the drug is associated with weight gain. Select Medicines, above, for more information.
  • Go natural. If a new weight loss eating plan leaves your digestive system out of whack—any major diet changes can lead to changes in bowel habits or an unsettled stomach—consider soothing natural digestion aids, such as herbs or teas, to get things back on track. Select Personal Care, above,
    for more information.


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