Adult Obesity

More than 1/3 of adults in America are obese. There are several factors that can lead to obesity in adults, including behavior, environment, genes, and diseases.

Eating a balanced diet and regularly exercising are two behaviors that can prevent obesity. The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommends adults do at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity activity, or a combination of both, along with 2 days of strength training per week.

Environmental conditions, such as a lack of sidewalks or community parks, can lead to lack of activity, and in turn, obesity. The following video explains the various community factors that contribute to the obesity epidemic.

Experts are still working to completely understand the role that genes play in obesity. Sometimes obesity within a family can be linked to the mutation of a single gene, though most of the time the link is more vague. Genes determine how we react to our environments, and therefore make some people more susceptible to the environmental factors that contribute to obesity. Unfortunately, you can't change your genes. You can, however, work to be healthy through regular exercise and a balanced diet.

Some illnesses, such as Cushing's disease and polycystic ovary syndrome, and drugs, like steroids and antidepressants, cause weight gain. This factor of obesity is still being studied.

Childhood Obesity

Approximately 17% of all children and adolescents are overweight or obese. Childhood obesity can be caused by the same factors as adult obesity, though it can be more difficult for children to avoid community factors and influences, which makes them more susceptible to forming habits which can lead to obesity.

Childhood obesity is especially dangerous and can immediately cause illnesses such as:

  • High blood pressure and high cholesterol, which are risk factors for cardiovascular disease (CVD).
  • Increased risk of impaired glucose tolerance, insulin resistance, and type 2 diabetes.
  • Breathing problems, such as asthma and sleep apnea.
  • Joint problems and musculoskeletal discomfort.
  • Fatty liver disease, gallstones, and gastro-esophageal reflux (i.e., heartburn).
  • Psychological problems such as anxiety and depression.
  • Low self-esteem and lower self-reported quality of life.
  • Social problems such as bullying and stigma.

It can also make children more at-risk for future health risks caused by adult obesity.

Effects of Adult Obesity

Obesity increases the risk for the following:

  • All-causes of death (mortality)
  • High blood pressure (Hypertension)
  • High LDL cholesterol, low HDL cholesterol, or high levels of triglycerides (Dyslipidemia)
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Coronary heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Gallbladder disease
  • Osteoarthritis (a breakdown of cartilage and bone within a joint)
  • Sleep apnea and breathing problems
  • Some cancers (endometrial, breast, colon, kidney, gallbladder, and liver)
  • Low quality of life
  • Mental illness such as clinical depression, anxiety, and other mental disorders
  • Body pain and difficulty with physical functioning

For more information about these and other health problems associated with obesity, visit Health Effects of Obesity.


Below is a BMI calculator for adults and for children and teens. BMI is a ratio of height to weight, and determines whether a person is underweight, a healthy weight, or overweight.

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