Obesity is a result of imbalance between the amounts of energy intake versus the amount used. If the intake is higher than the expenditure then the fat which is produced is stored and the patient becomes obese. The statement of the International Federation for the Surgery of Obesity in Prague 1996 summarizes the above quite well: “Obesity is a chronic, lifelong, multifactorial, genetically-related, life-threatening disease of excessive fat storage with highly significant medical, psychological, social, physical and economic co-morbidities.”


The fact that obesity in society is rife is not something that is new. Obesity can be a result of clinical issues such as genetics, diabetes, and other illnesses, but it can also be caused by lifestyle. People do eat too much fatty food, many people do not get enough exercise, and recent events – as we will talk about later – have not helped. Genetic factors play a major role in obesity by affecting the person’s metabolic rate. Life style and eating habits ie. eating a lot of fast foods affect the population negatively.
Social and psychological factors are also very important. Food is an addiction, which is difficult to cure.


But when is an overweight person obese? That’s what we’ll look at in the first section, before we take a close look at some more elements of obesity.


What is Obesity and Overweight?


A person can be overweight and not obese – but not vice-versa! It is not solely a person’s weight that classes them as obese, as the real indicator is your Body Mass Index. Let’s see what this is all about. Your BMI is a measure of your status in terms of weight to height, with sex and age as other qualifiers. Put simply, a person of ‘normal’ weight for their height, age and sex should have a BMI of between 18.5 and 24.9.


A person of between 25 and 29.9 BMI is overweight, which brings us to the obese class which is applied to those with a BMI of greater than 30. There are calculators available online which you can use to determine your BMI. Let’s have a quick look at some facts about obesity.


Facts About Obesity


The following figures are taken from a survey by the World Health Organisation in 2016 and one in 2020:


  • More than 650 million people across the world were obese in 2016.
  • Instances of obesity have more than tripled between 1975 and 2016.
  • Obesity was once mainly associated with high-income countries but is now prevalent in others.
  • 39 million children were obese in 2020.


We’re sure you’ll find those figures shocking. Now we want to look at an example, so we have chosen to talk about obesity in South Africa.


Obesity in South Africa


A recent survey regarding obesity in South Africa provides an interesting insight into the situation in the country. Following are some of the results that this in-depth survey uncovered:


  • The biggest demographic for growth in obesity levels was in women between 45-55 years of age.
  • Pre-school children are another area of increased obesity with levels rising to 18%.
  • Poor eating habits are the cause of rising obesity in schoolchildren with 50% now buying food at school rather than taking a prepared lunch box.


These are just a few of the findings that came from a survey in a country with very high-income disparity between social classes.


Health Consequences of Obesity


Many people overlook the serious health consequences of obesity, yet it can lead to very damaging illnesses if left untended. Here’s a list of the potential health problems that come with being obese:


  • Type 2 diabetes can be a result of obesity.
  • Severe sleep apnea is associated with obesity.
  • Obesity can result in high blood pressure.
  • Heart disease may be a result of obesity.
  • Obesity can be a cause of a stroke.
  • Obese people may contract fatty liver diseases.
  • Kidney diseases may be a result of obesity.
  • Gallbladder problems are greatly increased in obese people.
  • Osteoarthritis can be caused by obesity.
  • Some cancers may also be triggered by obesity.


Further to the above obesity can cause serious problems during pregnancy. From this list we can see that obesity is a major health problem, especially given the sheer numbers of obese people.


Obesity and Socioeconomic Status


A study in Social Science and Medicine looked at obesity in relation to socioeconomic status (SES) in 67 countries. The findings were curious and interesting. Here are some of the more important in brief:


  • Cases of obesity rise with growth in a country’s economic status.
  • In low-income countries persons with higher SES are more likely to be obese.
  • The opposite is true in high-income countries where those with higher SES are less likely to be obese.


The reason for the disparity has been put down to available exercise and affordable healthy food in the high-income countries as well as more awareness in young people. The study provides interesting insight into how obesity affects populations in different social situations and environments.


The Obesity Epidemic


The obesity epidemic in the USA is acknowledged and has been much written about. It’s interesting to look at how things have changed across the years.


For example, in 1990 fewer than 15% of the population in most states of the USA was obese. By 2010 that figure had risen to 25% in 36 states and 20% in 12 of those, a notable increase. In 2021 around 69% of the US adult population is overweight and just over a third are obese.


Furthermore, one in six young people between the ages of 2 and 19 years is obese and on in three overweight. These figures alone indicate that obesity is present in the USA on an epidemic scale.


The Effect of COVID-19 Pandemic on Obesity


Finally, a look at how the COVID-19 pandemic has exaggerated the obesity epidemic in the USA. It should come as no surprise that obesity has risen in the years 2020 and 2021 as people have been forced to make lifestyle changes that were not necessarily for the better.


Enforced lockdowns meant less exercise was possible. Furthermore, eating casually rather than planning is easy when you are stuck in the home. Stress – a known cause of obesity as people tend to eat more to counter stress – rocketed to new levels. In fact, a survey in February 2021 found that 42% of adults in the US had gained undesired extra weight to the tune of an average of 29lbs.


We hope that this article has helped you understand the problem of obesity not just in the USA but across the world. It should be remembered that obesity can cause serious health problems so should be dealt with professionally as soon as is possible.

Obesity Unit South Africa