Obesity is a medical word that describes a level of overweight
that can or is seriously affecting health

What is Obesity?

Obesity is a medical word that describes a level of overweight that can or is seriously affecting health.

Obesity has become a major health problem in Australia. Nearly 60% of adult Australians are overweight or obese. It is rapidly becoming the single most important cause of preventable illness and death – even more significant than smoking!

Of course, obesity has significant impact on quality of life and just doing everyday things like using transport, buying clothes, playing with children and so on.

How is Obesity Caused?

The following have been identified as important factors in the development of overweight or obesity:

  • Energy intake from food exceeds energy expenditure, but obesity is not simply a result of overeating.

  • Biological factors such as age, sex, hormonal and genetics.

  • Behavioural influences such as learnt habits, emotions, attitudes, beliefs and thought process.

  • Environmental/societal influences such as social, political and economic environment.

  • Metabolism and the potential effects of a 'set point'.

  • Some medical conditions such as hypothyroidism.

It is very important to understand that all current medical interventions, including weight loss surgery, should not be considered medical cures. Rather they are attempts to reduce the effects of excessive weight and alleviate the serious physical, emotional and social consequences of morbid obesity.

Health Risks from Obesity

According to the NSW Department of Health, overweight and obesity is a serious, chronic medical condition, which is associated with a wide range of chronic and debilitating illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease, some cancers, sleep apnoea and osteoarthritis.


Obesity related health

problems include:

  • Diabetes

  • Heart Disease

  • Stroke

  • High Blood Pressure

  • Sleep Apnoea (breathing problems
    at night that prevents proper sleep)

  • Asthma

  • Arthritis / Joint Pains

  • Reflux (heartburn / indigestion)

  • Infertility

  • Pregnancy Complications

  • Some Cancers

  • Depression

Morbid obesity brings with it an increased risk for a shorter life expectancy. For individuals whose weight exceeds 50% above their ideal body weight, the risk of an early death is doubled compared to non-obese individuals.

Contributing Factors

There are many factors that contribute to the development of obesity including genetic, hereditary, environmental, metabolic and eating disorders. There are also certain medical conditions that may result in obesity like intake of steroids and hypothyroidism.

Biological Factors

Genetic factors, hormone factors, age and sex are all biological factors that have been identified to influence body fat levels (4).

Research conducted on Danish adoptees showed a strong relationship between the Body Mass Index of their biological parents and little, if any, correlation with adopted parents. The authors concluded that human obesity is under genetic control, whereas the family environment had little influence on obesity in adults. (5)

Identical twins, with the same genes, show a much higher similarity of body weights than do fraternal twins, who have different genes.

Certain groups of people, such as the Pima Indian tribe in Arizona, have a very high incidence of severe obesity. They also have significantly higher rates of diabetes and heart disease than other ethnic groups. (6)

We probably have a number of genes directly related to weight. Just as some genes determine eye color or height, others affect our appetite, our ability to feel full or satisfied, our metabolism, our fat-storing ability, and even our natural activity levels.

The Pima Paradox

The Pima Indians are known in scientific circles as one of the groups of heaviest people in the world. In fact, American researchers have been studying them for more than 35 years. Some adults weigh more than 225 kg, and many obese teenagers are suffering from diabetes, the disease most frequently associated with morbid obesity.

But here's a really interesting fact - a group of Pima Indians living in Sierra Madre, Mexico, does not have a problem with obesity and its related diseases. Why not?

The leading theory states that after many generations of living in the desert, often confronting famine, the most successful Pima were those with genes that helped them store as much fat as possible during times when food was available. Now those fat-storing genes work against them.

Though both populations consume a similar number of calories each day, the Mexican Pima still live much like their ancestors did. They put in 23 hours of physical labor each week and eat a traditional diet that's very low in fat. The Arizona Pima live like most other modern Americans, eating a diet consisting of around 40 percent fat and engaging in physical activity for only two hours a week.

The Pima apparently have a genetic predisposition to gain weight. And the environment in which they live - the environment in which most of us live - makes it nearly impossible for the Arizona Pima to maintain a normal, healthy body weight.

Environmental Factors

Environmental and genetic factors are obviously closely intertwined. If you have a genetic predisposition toward morbid obesity, then the modern Australian lifestyle and environment may make controlling weight more difficult.

Fast food, long days sitting at a desk, and suburban neighborhoods that require cars all magnify hereditary factors such as metabolism and efficient fat storage.

For those suffering from morbid obesity, anything less than a total change in environment usually results in failure to reach and maintain a healthy body weight.


We used to think of weight gain or loss as only a function of calories ingested and then burned. Take in more calories than you burn, gain weight; burn more calories than you ingest, lose weight. But now we know the equation isn't that simple.

Obesity researchers now talk about a theory called the "set point," a sort of thermostat in the brain that makes people resistant to either weight gain or loss. (7) If you try to override the set point by drastically cutting your calorie intake, your brain responds by lowering metabolism and slowing activity. You then gain back any weight you lost.

Eating Disorders & Medical Conditions

Weight loss surgery is not a cure for eating disorders or morbid obesity. And there are medical conditions, such as hypothyroidism, that can also cause weight gain. That's why it's important that you work with your doctor to make sure you do not have a condition that should be treated with medication and counseling.
















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Darwin Private Hospital
Rocklands Drive
TIWI NT 0810


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