Obesity more complex than you think


Obesity: More complex than you think

There's a common assumption that people affected by obesity simply need to eat healthier and exercise more. However, obesity can be very challenging to manage. The American Medical Association now recognizes obesity as a complex disease that affects almost 40% of Americans, or about 93 million people.

What is a complex disease?

A disease is complex when it's influenced by many different factors in your life. This means a disease like obesity can be impacted by your environment and behaviors, as well as what gets passed down in your family through genetics.

What counts as obese?

Doctors define obesity as excessive weight with a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher. Being obese often leads to health problems like:

  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Heart problems
  • High blood pressure
  • Certain types of cancer

How does this definition impact obesity treatment?

Since obesity is complex and chronic, the way we approach it needs to include more than just changes to diet and exercise. This means recognizing the psychology around food and how this impacts obesity.

For example, we know that certain foods high in sugar and carbohydrates increase levels of a chemical called serotonin in our brain, making us feel happier and calmer. When food makes us feel better, we experience positive reinforcement and our brain desires more. This positive reinforcement is powerful—and is often a reason why people eat less healthy foods when feeling sad or depressed. Understanding examples like this helps us understand obesity and approach treatment in a meaningful, sustainable way.

What does this mean for me?

If you struggle with obesity, it's important to find a provider who understands this complexity and works to address all the parts of your life that impact your health.

If you have a loved one who struggles with obesity, non-judgement and understanding are key to providing support. The stigma around obesity is real. Acknowledging the complexity of this disease is the first step toward a more inclusive, compassionate world for everyone.


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