Obesity: Definition and Explanation

Definition of Obesity

The term ‘obesity’ – derived from the latin word obesus, meaning ‘having eaten until fat’ – describes an excessive accumulation of body fat (adipose tissue), usually caused by the consumption of more calories than the body requires to fuel its energy requirements. The excess energy is thus stored for future use.

Types of Obesity

As a very rough guide, a body weight which is twenty percent over the optimum weight tends to be associated with mild obesity. In recent times, with the advent of the Body Mass Index (BMI), most Western doctors equate obesity with a BMI of 30 or more. More serious categories of obesity include: morbid obesity (BMI 40+), and super-obesity (BMI 50-60). These conditions should not be confused with problems of edema caused by water retention.

Underlying Causes

The recent upsurge in the incidence and prevalence of obesity among Western adults and children, particularly morbid obesity, has triggered increased research into the underlying causes of the condition, especially the mechanism whereby the body adjusts food intake to its energy needs, as this can be disturbed by numerous factors, including hormone imbalances, glandular defects and other genetically transmitted conditions. However, while such genetic conditions are believed to be contributory causes, the extent of their influence is complicated by two things. First, the fact that obesity is frquently passed from mother to child via early feeding habits – an environmental or cultural phenomenon, rather than a genetic one. Second, obesity can precipitate metabolic disorders which themselves lead to a worsening of the obese condition. Distentangling cause and effect in these situations is not easy.

Impact of Environment and Culture on Body Weight

Traditionally, the medical view of obesity has been shaped by the unchanging nature of human biology. Human genes do not appear to have changed materially since prehistoric times. Thus most doctors attribute the recent obesity epidemic to environmental and cultural factors. Among these are: increased availability of food; food processing techniques that remove more and more natural ingredients from raw food; higher levels of stress which lead to increased emotional-eating and patterns of disordered eating especially among young adults and children; and a general reduction in physical exercise. Until research discovers a more significant role for genes in raising obesity levels, the medical consensus as the causes of obesity is likely to remain centered on these cultural and emotional factors. Not least because a number of Third World countries are beginning to count an increasing number of obese and morbidly obese people among the more affluent sections of their society.


The treatment of obesity has two principal objectives: the removal of the causative factors, including emotional or psychological causes, and the reduction of the excess adipose tissue. While the latter can be accomplished by a calorie-controlled obesity diet, or – in extreme cases – by bariatric surgical operations, the former can only be achieved through counseling and training, which is both expensive and time-consuming and requires the active involvement of the obese patient. For this reason, the success rate for the treatment of severely overweight people remains low. Anne Collins weight loss forum has a large number of members who suffer from obesity, many of whom are losing weight for the first time in their lives. Well worth checking out if you need extra support to reduce weight.