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Obesity, a Disease

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Obesity is now considered a disease—not a moral failing. According to a 1995 report from the Institute of Medicine, “Obesity is a heterogeneous disease in which genetic, environmental, psychological, and other factors are involved. It occurs when energy intake exceeds the amount of energy expended over time. Only in a small minority of cases is obesity caused by such illnesses as hypothyroidism or the result of taking medications, such as steroids, that can cause weight gain.”

Public health concerns about this disease relate to its link to numerous other diseases that can lead to premature illness or death. The report notes that overweight individuals who lose even relatively small amounts of weight are likely to:

  • Lower their blood pressure (and thereby the risk of heart attack and stroke)
  • Reduce abnormally high levels of blood glucose (associated with diabetes)
  • Bring blood levels of cholesterol and triglycerides (associated with cardiovascular disease) down to more desirable levels
  • Reduce sleep apnea, or irregular breathing during sleep
  • Decrease the risk of osteoarthritis of the weight-bearing joints
  • Decrease depression
  • Increase self-esteem

Of course, losing excess weight is also likely to improve appearance, which is a strong motivation for many people.

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