obese woman with a cup in her hand


Understanding obesity and its complex treatment challenges

  • Obesity is defined as excessive body weight with a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher.
  • Obesity is associated with the leading causes of death: diabetes, heart disease, stroke and some types of cancer.

Obesity can be a challenge to manage and affects almost 40% of American adults. So, while working to lose a lot of weight can eliminate and prevent a host of health complications, it’s not always as simple as eating better and exercising more.

Some behaviors that can increase weight are:

  • your level of physical activity or inactivity
  • what you eat and why
  • medications you take
  • your physical environment

According to the CDC, obesity is associated with poorer mental health outcomes and reduced quality of life. Obesity is also associated with the leading causes of death including diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and some types of cancer.

The definition of obesity

Obesity is the excessive accumulation of fat in the body and weight that is higher than what is considered healthy. Health care providers use body mass index or BMI to determine where you land on weight guidelines. BMI is a measure that compares your weight and your height.

If your BMI is You are considered
less than 18 Underweight
20-25 Ideal weight
25-30 Overweight
more than 30 Obese

Factors that increase your risk of obesity

Obesity is a complex disease influenced by many different factors in your life. A disease like obesity can be impacted by genetics, circumstances, certain health conditions and behaviors.

  • Type 2 diabetes: More than 80 percent of people with Type 2 diabetes are obese or at high risk of developing obesity.
  • Sleep apnea: Those extra pounds you carry can increase pressure on your airways when you sleep. Losing weight can greatly improve or even eliminate obstructive sleep apnea.
  • Poverty and food scarcity: Another complex issue, people who live in poverty often struggle to find and afford healthy, unprocessed foods. Fewer healthy food options, often working several part-time jobs, relying on public transportation and no health insurance all impact healthy eating.
  • Genetics: While some syndromes and conditions have been linked to a history of obesity in families, genetics are not as common as other risk factors that contribute to obesity.

Treatments for obesity

Obesity is best treated with a combination of lifestyle changes, medication and surgery. If you struggle with obesity, it's important to find a team of providers who understand this complexity and who will work to address all the parts of your life that impact your health. These providers recognize the risks and behaviors around obesity, as well as understand the psychology around what you eat and why.

As an example, certain foods high in sugar and carbohydrates increase levels of the chemical, serotonin, in your brain. This in turn can make you feel happier and calmer. When food makes you feel better, it acts as positive reinforcement and your brain wants more. This positive reinforcement is powerful—and is often a reason why you eat less healthy foods when you’re feeling sad or depressed. Understanding this helps you better understand and approach obesity treatment in a way that is meaningful and sustainable to your unique needs.

Some ways to help manage your weight can include:

If you or a loved one is struggling with obesity, being supportive and non-judgmental are important. The stigma around obesity is real. Acknowledging the complexity of obesity is the first step toward successful and sustained weight loss.

Allina Health Weight Management will partner with you to offer a safe, medically supervised weight-loss program that’s uniquely suited to you and your wellness goals. Call 763-236-0940 or fill out an appointment request form to talk to a weight management specialist.


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