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Medicine LibreTexts

10.0: Weight Management intro

  • Page ID
    11758
  • Achieving and sustaining appropriate body weight across the lifespan is vital to maintaining good health and quality of life. Many behavioral, environmental, and genetic factors have been shown to affect a person’s body weight. Calorie balance over time is the key to weight management. Calorie balance refers to the relationship between calories consumed from foods and beverages and calories expended in normal body functions (i.e., metabolic processes) and through physical activity. People cannot control the calories expended in metabolic processes, but they can control what they eat and drink, as well as how many calories they use in physical activity.

    Calories consumed must equal calories expended for a person to maintain the same body weight. Consuming more calories than expended will result in weight gain. Conversely, consuming fewer calories than expended will result in weight loss. This can be achieved over time by eating fewer calories, being more physically active, or, best of all, a combination of the two.

    Maintaining a healthy body weight and preventing excess weight gain throughout the lifespan are highly preferable to losing weight after weight gain. Once a person becomes obese, reducing body weight back to a healthy range requires significant effort over a span of time, even years. People who are most successful at losing weight and keeping it off do so through continued attention to calorie balance.

    The current high rates of overweight and obesity among virtually all subgroups of the population in the United States demonstrate that many Americans are in calorie imbalance—that is, they consume more calories than they expend. To curb the obesity epidemic and improve their health, Americans need to make significant efforts to decrease the total number of calories they consume from foods and beverages and increase calorie expenditure through physical activity. Achieving these goals will require Americans to select a healthy eating pattern that includes nutrient-dense foods and beverages they enjoy, meets nutrient requirements, and stays within calorie needs. In addition, Americans can choose from a variety of strategies to increase physical activity.

    Key Recommendations

    • Prevent and/or reduce overweight and obesity through improved eating and physical activity behaviors.
    • Control total calorie intake to manage body weight. For people who are overweight or obese, this will mean consuming fewer calories from foods and beverages.
    • Increase physical activity and reduce time spent in sedentary behaviors.
    • Maintain appropriate calorie balance during each stage of life—childhood, adolescence, adulthood, pregnancy and breastfeeding, and older age.

    An Epidemic of Overweight and Obesity

    The prevalence of overweight and obesity in the United States is dramatically higher now than it was a few decades ago. This is true for all age groups, including children, adolescents, and adults. One of the largest changes has been an increase in the number of Americans in the obese category. As shown in the maps below, the prevalence of obesity has doubled and in some cases tripled between the 1990s and 2011.

    Obesity Rates.PNG

    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\). Obesity Rates

    The high prevalence of overweight and obesity across the population is of concern because individuals who are overweight obese, compared to those with a normal or healthy weight, are at increased risk for many serious diseases and health conditions, including 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

    Ultimately, obesity can increase the risk of premature death. These increased health risks are not limited to adults. Weight-associated diseases and conditions that were once diagnosed primarily in adults are now observed in children and adolescents with excess body fat. For example, cardiovascular disease risk factors, such as high blood cholesterol and hypertension, and type 2 diabetes are now increasing in children and adolescents. The adverse effects also tend to persist through the lifespan, as children and adolescents who are overweight and obese are at substantially increased risk of being overweight and obese as adults and developing weight-related chronic diseases later in life. Primary prevention of obesity, especially in childhood, is an important strategy for combating and reversing the obesity epidemic.

    All Americans—children, adolescents, adults, and older adults—are encouraged to strive to achieve and maintain a healthy body weight. Adults who are obese should make changes in their eating and physical activity behaviors to prevent additional weight gain and promote weight loss. Adults who are overweight should not gain additional weight, and most, particularly those with cardiovascular disease risk factors, should make changes to their eating and physical activity behaviors to lose weight. Children and adolescents are encouraged to maintain calorie balance to support normal growth and development without promoting excess weight gain. Children and adolescents who are overweight or obese should change their eating and physical activity behaviors so that their BMI-for-age percentile does not increase over time. Further, a health care provider should be consulted to determine appropriate weight management for the child or adolescent. Families, schools, and communities play important roles in supporting changes in eating and physical activity behaviors for children and adolescents.

    Maintaining a healthy weight also is important for certain subgroups of the population, including women who are capable of becoming pregnant, pregnant women, and older adults.

    • Women are encouraged to achieve and maintain a healthy weight before becoming pregnant. This may reduce a woman’s risk of complications during pregnancy, increase the chances of a healthy infant birth weight, and improve the long-term health of both mother and infant.
    • Pregnant women are encouraged to gain weight within the 2009 Institute of Medicine (IOM) gestational weight gain guidelines. Maternal weight gain during pregnancy outside the recommended range is associated with increased risks for maternal and child health.
    • Adults ages 65 years and older who are overweight are encouraged to not gain additional weight. Among older adults who are obese, particularly those with cardiovascular disease risk factors, intentional weight loss can be beneficial and result in improved quality of life and reduced risk of chronic diseases and associated disabilities.