Obesity is a disease that affects approximately 60 million people in the United States, and women are especially affected. Over one-third of women between the ages of 20 and 74 are obese, the majority of them being African American or Mexican American. With more and more pre-packaged food and less and less activity, the number of obese people in America has steadily increased since the 1960’s.
But what is obesity? Many people think obesity means that a person is overweight, but that’s not exactly true. An overweight person has a surplus amount of weight that includes muscle, bone, fat, and water. An obese person has a surplus of body fat. Most health professionals concur that a man is obese if he has over 25 percent body fat, and a woman is obese if she has over 30 percent. Women physiologically have more body fat than men, so that why there’s a difference in percentage.
It is difficult to determine the exact percentage of body fat a person has, but estimates can be made in a number of ways. First, using a tweezer-like tool called a caliper, you can measure the thickness of skin folds on different points of your body and compare the results with standardized numbers. You can also use a small device that sends a harmless electrical current through your body and measures your body fat percentage. The most commonly used method to determine if a person is obese is to look at his/her Body Mass Index (BMI). A person with a BMI over 30 is considered to be obese, and a BMI over 40 is considered to be severely obese. It’s important to remember though that BMI could be misleading in pregnant or lactating women and in muscular individuals.
With obesity, comes the increased risk of diseases such as high blood pressure, Type II Diabetes, heart disease, and breast, colon, and prostate cancer. In addition, obesity has been linked to mental health conditions such as depression or feelings of shame and low self-esteem. Health experts say that even losing 10 to 15 percent of your body weight can dramatically decrease the risk of developing these serious conditions. In addition, many obese people are discriminated against and targets of insults and other verbal abuse.
A number of factors, such as poor diet, lack of physical activity, genetics, and certain medical disorders, cause obesity, but it can be conquered. The following information seeks to educate about obesity and the methods used to treat it. It does not take the place of a physician.
Obesity and its Relationship to:
Anorexia, Bulimia, and Other Special Eating Disorders
Obesity itself is not an eating disorder, but people who are obese or who fear becoming obese may develop one. Let’s take a look at obesity and its relationship to special eating disorders.
Binge Eating Disorder - The most common eating disorder is binge eating disorder. Approximately 4 million Americans have this disorder. Binge eating disorder is more than just occasionally overeating. It is characterized by eating uncontrollably, quickly eating an unusually large amount of food at one sitting, even when the person is not hungry, and eating in secret because the person is embarrassed about the amount of food he/she eats.
More women than men have binge eating disorder, and most of the people who have it are overweight or obese. Binge eaters eat mostly sugar and fat, and as a result, they may be lacking certain vitamins and nutrients. Many of them are also depressed. Treatments for this disorder include therapy and medications such as antidepressants.
Bulimia Nervosa - Binge eating is also present in another eating disorder, bulimia nervosa. It is estimated that 1.1 to 4.2 percent of females will have bulimia nervosa in their lifetime. Bulimics are caught in a binge/purge cycle. They binge eat, usually in secret, then purge to get rid of the calories just eaten. Purging may involve either self-induced vomiting after eating or using laxatives, diuretics, or enemas. People with bulimia may also exercise intensely for long periods of time in attempt to burn off the extra calories taken in during binge eating, or they may go for long periods of time without eating. Many bulimics do a combination or all of these things.
Bulimia affects more women than men and more young women in their teens and twenties than older women. These women are usually obsessed with their weight and truly believe that they are overweight even though most have a normal body weight. It can cause a number of serious health effects, including anemia, dehydration, heart problems, ruptured esophagus, stomach ulcers, and even death. Like binge eating disorder, bulimia is treated with therapy and medications.
Anorexia Nervosa - on the opposite side of binge eating is anorexia nervosa. It affects around 1 to 2 percent of the female population. Anorexia is characterized by self-starvation and obsession with food, weight, and appearance, weight loss of 15% or more below the normal body weight, and an intense fear of being fat. Many of them look emaciated, but they’re convinced they are fat.
Because anorexics literally starve themselves, their bodies are severely depleted of nutrients. As a result, they develop muscular atrophy, dehydration, low blood pressure, and brain and organ damage to name a few. As many as 10 percent of anorexics die. Most anorexics deny they have a problem until the problem gets so bad that they have to be hospitalized. Because anorexia is so life-threatening, the first stage of treatment is getting body weight back to normal. once this is on track, therapy and medications are used.
Eating disorders are serious disorders and should not be taken lightly. If you suspect you have one or think someone you love does, please seek help. It could be a matter of life and death.