Dr. Anurag Shahi (AIIMS)MBBS,MD

January 23, 2017

January 31, 2023



Obesity is an ignored and underestimated clinical condition affecting people globally. It is characterized by excessive fat accumulation in the body and is commonly found in children and adults. India is believed to be the third highest in ranking after US and China in terms of obese population.

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Obesity is of great public health importance due to obesity-related risks factors which involve cardiovascular diseases, diabetes mellitus, hypertension (high blood pressure), osteoarthritis and kidney diseases. The good news is that obesity is a preventable condition and can be effectively reversed. Lifestyle modifications, dietary changes, physical activities, and surgeries are implemented to rectify patients suffering from chronic obesity.

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What is Obesity

What does it mean to be obese?

Obese: The first thing which comes to our minds after listening to this condition is a “fat person’’ with lots of double chins, built in calories, probably unable to do certain physical activities. Aren't these the immediate thoughts? Yes, Obese means being overweight, but not all of us are aware that this is a clinical condition, that comes with the abnormal accumulation of body fats in various parts of the body resulting in excessive body weight, which has a very negative impact on overall health.

How do you determine whether a person is overweight or obese? The answer to this is the Body Mass Index (BMI). The BMI is a statistical measurement derived from your height and weight. BMI measurement can be a very useful indicator for calculating obesity for any person.  A person is referred to as obese when the body weight is at least 20% higher than it should be, then he or she is considered obese. If your BMI is between 25 and 29.9 you are considered overweight. If your BMI is 30 or over you are considered obese.

If your BMI is above 25, then you should consider weight loss programs and if your BMI is above 30, then you should seriously consider taking advice from a doctor for weight reduction. This is important because obesity is known to cause or increase the possibility of many other medical conditions like diabetes, coronary heart disease, hypertension, obstructive sleep disorders, osteoarthritis of the joints, etc. The first step in dealing with the condition is figuring out the root cause of your obesity. One can do this by observing their daily lifestyle or consulting your doctor or a nutritionist.

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Did you know?

Your waist circumference is an important factor determining your health. Your health may be at risk if: you're a man and your waist measurement is 94 centimetres (37 inches) or more and if you’re a woman and your waist measurement is 80 centimetres (31.5 inches) or more.

Being obese can make you feel very uncomfortable and bring hindrances in your day-to-day lives. You may get breathless and even find it difficult to walk or be physically active. You may also find it difficult to get comfortable clothing suiting your body type. Obese people may also sweat a lot after doing minimal work. Additionally, if you are obese, this can also affect the way you feel. Your self-esteem and confidence may be low. And because some people may point out obesity very negatively, you may feel rejected, guilty, ashamed and even depressed. In order to overcome all these social stigmas, we are here to let you know about its causes and prevention in the next sections so that you can come on top of your situation and lead a healthy life.

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Symptoms of Obesity

The most common symptoms of obesity are:

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When to see a doctor

Obesity is never a medical emergency. But depending on certain factors and symptoms you can choose to take a call on when to see the doctor. Researchers claim that a majority of people often ignore and avoid going to the doctor due to psychological and social reasons. It has been further observed that by doing so, they aid the disease to progress further.

You are sincerely urged to talk to a health practitioner as soon as possible if you are facing physical difficulties in your daily life due to your body weight such as stair climbing, walking, running, doing daily chores. Inability to perform such activities indicates immediate actions.

Immediately seek for doctor’s advice if you see the following symptoms:

  • High BP and breathing disorders
  • Reduced sleep with food cravings
  • Pain in the heart with palpitations
  • Increased blood sugar or diabetes 
  • Depression and high levels of stress
  • Gastro, Liver and gallbladder problems
  • High cholesterol
  • Pain in knees and lower back
  • A feeling of worthlessness, and a tendency to remain aloof.

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Causes of Obesity & Risk Factors

The reasons for obesity are many, however, the prime reason is when you gain a lot of weight. Weight gain occurs when the body takes in more calories than it burns. However, having said this, it does not mean that we should rule out other medical reasons. Earlier it was assumed that obesity was only caused because of excessive food intake along with minimal physical activities. But when medical investigators delved more into the causes of obesity,  they found other major factors involved which contribute to this medical condition.

They suggest that excess food intake was only one side of the coin, other aspects are genetics, hypothalamic diseases, environmental, social and behavioural factors that play a huge and equally important role in the onset of this disease.

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Risk factors

Let’s explore some of the most common ones:

1. Physical Factors:

  • Excess food consumption: 
    Obesity occurs when you gain a lot of weight because of too much food consumption. Weight gain occurs when the body takes in more calories than it burns. Most of the increased food consumption has consisted of carbohydrates (sugars). Increased consumption of sweetened drinks and fast-foods has contributed significantly to the raised carbohydrate intake of most young adults over the last three decades.
  • Lack of physical activities and sedentary lifestyle: 
    With the arrival of televisions, computers, video games, remote controls, washing machines, dishwashers and other modern convenience devices, which help people lead a luxurious but sedentary lifestyle as compared to people of previous generations such as our parents and grandparents. The lesser you locomote (move around) the fewer calories you burn. Physical activity has an effect on how your hormones work, and hormones have an effect on how your body deals with food. This is a scientifically proven fact that physical activity has a beneficial effect on your insulin levels keeping them stable. Unstable insulin levels are closely associated with weight gain.
  • Lack of sleep: 
    Recent studies claim that with increasing stress and work pressure, the sleep time which should be ideally 8 hrs is getting reduced to 4-5 hrs a day. This causes a direct impact on human health and life. It has been noticed that if you do not sleep enough your risk of becoming obese becomes twice more likely. This is because various hormones in the body do not function properly in deprived sleep conditions. Scientists claim that sleep deprivation may lead to obesity through increased appetite as a result of hormonal changes. If you do not sleep enough you produce Ghrelin, a hormone that stimulates appetite. Lack of sleep also results in your body producing less Leptin, a hormone that suppresses appetite. 

2. Environmental and Social factors:

A person’s environment has a high impact on his/her dietary habits. For example, if you grow up in a family that regularly indulges in unhealthy food eating habits like fast food or junk food, there is a higher chance that you will become overweight. If you are subjected to eating heavy meals with your family late in the night. 

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3. Genetic factors:

Genetic factors play an important role in a person’s metabolism which can either make weight loss easier or more difficult. For some people weight gain can be as fast as 1-2 days if they do not exercise or burn calories.

  • Obesity gene
    A faulty gene, called FTO, makes 1 in every 6 people overeat, it has been researched that people who carry this FTO gene variant have a strong tendency to eat more, prefer high-energy, fatty foods, and are usually obese.
  • Heredity in families
    Obesity runs in families. If your parents or close family members are obese, you're more likely to be obese as a child or later as an adult. Genetic factors play a huge role in this.

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Prevention of Obesity

How to prevent and control obesity?

The best solution for preventing and controlling obesity is to deal with it the natural way. This involves changing your dietary habits and exercising regularly. Let’s see the various methods which can help in reducing obesity without any medical intervention. 

  • Control and change in eating habits:
    You need to change your eating habits and learn how to make the right food choices. Instead of choosing fast food and other unhealthy food options that contain a high amount of calories and unhealthy fats, you should wisely choose lean proteins, fruits, and vegetables. Lean proteins such as fish & chicken have lesser fat content than red meats. For vegetarians paneer, soya and tofu are excellent sources of proteins. 
  • Eat fibrous food:
    High fiber foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains are great for losing weight. Fiber fills you up quickly and for a longer time which is great for reducing food intake. This helps you reduce calorie intake which leads to weight loss. Not only this, correct fiber intake also prevents constipation and keeps our skin healthy. 
  • Eat small meals more frequently:
    Eating 3 large meals famously breakfast, lunch and dinner will not help. Break it into 6 small meals. Include items which are low in calories such as salad and fruits bowls can be one mini meal. Quit bakery food items such as pastries, cakes and puddings. Never skip a meal, this is very important because skipping meals only leads to more cravings and you tend to eat more (larger portions). 
  • Avoid alcohol and junk food:
    You should avoid the intake of alcohol because they contain a high amount of calories. The same goes for junk food which is high in saturated fats (bad fats) and calories. Carefully read product labels before consuming them. Cutting down on beverages such as tea and coffee also greatly helps in reducing weight and avoiding acidity
  • Get active and stay active:
    Exercising is a must it not only it energises you but also helps you in keeping your weight on the check. if you want to lose weight effectively then you need to set exercising regimes such as 45 mins free hand exercises, cardio exercises, weight training. Swimming, cycling, brisk walking, gymming and yoga have been found very effective in obesity management. 
  • Be patient and stay motivated:
    Motivation is very important when it comes to overcoming conditions like obesity. Patience is the key. You need time and immense effort along with patience to substantially loose inches and burn down the extra fat from your body.
  • Reduce stress:
    Stress should be minimized if you want to lose weight. This is because stress promotes the release of the hormone cortisol which has a strong connection to binge eating and food cravings. Cortisol encourages the storage of fat in the abdominal area. Hence making it exceedingly difficult to lose weight. 
  • Participate in fun challenges and activities:
    There are various programmes being held in gyms and clubhouses which provides weight loss challenge programmes. Attending regular weekly sessions at these places has been shown to be effective in helping people start to lose weight. You not only lose weight but also stay motivated seeing peers around you. 
  • Diet programmes:
    There’s a range of diet programmes available, which can help you lose weight and maintain your weight loss. You may find these helpful for reducing your weight effectively. Mediterranian diet, dash diet, vegan diet etc they also enhance your taste buds and give you a change from regular weight loss diets. 
  • Physical activity:
    The best way to lose weight is to combine healthy eating with increased physical activity. Take the stairs, cycle to the marketplace, walk to your workplace. Do the home chores yourself. Aim to do some physical activity at least five days a week. And even if you don’t lose much weight, by doing the following you will prevent diabetes and other heart diseases. 

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Treatment of Obesity

When is treatment required for obesity?

Making changes to your diet and becoming more physically active should help you lose weight. However, in some circumstances, your doctor may suggest medicines or weight loss surgery. This is especially when you are unable to lose weight through changes in diet and exercise alone. Directly affecting your day to day activities. 

Medical Treatments:

We have various recommended drugs and medicines advised by doctors which can be taken under medical supervision, along with following diet and exercise. They are as follows:

  • For children and obese adolescents, metformin is used in the case of insulin resistance and hyperinsulinemia.
  • Octreotide is used for hypothalamic obesity.
  • Orlistat prevents your body from absorbing all the fat in your food. It’s recommended for people with a BMI of 30 or more for whom lifestyle and behaviour changes haven’t been effective.

However, all these medicines must be taken when prescribed by a registered practitioner as they come with their own side effects. Pregnant women, children, and senior citizens must see a doctor before starting with any dose.

Surgical Treatment

Surgical conditions are recommended only when a person has tried other suitable ways of losing weight without success and are fit for surgery and general anaesthesia. Surgery is usually recommended opted when BMI scores more than 50. The medical term for this is bariatric surgery. Two common types of surgery are gastric banding and gastric bypass. They involve either reducing the size of your stomach so that you eat less, or bypassing part of your gut so your body absorbs less food. You may have to undergo a long-term treatment and follow-up programme after bariatric surgery. 

Lifestyle modifications

It has been observed that only by taking medicines or undergoing surgeries cannot work effectively unless and until you have made changes in your lifestyle. Even after surgery, there are chances that eventually over few years again you can put on weight if your lifestyle is not good. One can manage and stay on top of their condition by doing the following. 

  • Indulging in daily continuous physical activities
  • Eating right amount and kind of food 
  • Taking proper sleep (6-8 hours minimum). 
  • Avoiding high sugar items ( bakery products, chocolates, sweets)
  • Avoiding processed foods and junk food
  • Avoid alcohol intake 
  • Keeping a routine check on weight.
  • A full body check up once a year 
  • Routine Blood tests once in six months 
  • Including fibres, fruits, veggies, lean proteins, multigrain carbohydrates, dairy in their diet.
  • Taking medicines as directed by their physicians. As specific health conditions such as thyroid problems need daily medications without which there will be an increase in weight gain and other life-threatening conditions.

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Obesity Complications

Obesity leads to a number of medical conditions out of which some are high-risk lifelong complications. let us explore few scientifically researched diseases which have a direct link with obesity.

  • Heart problems
    Significant research claims that Obesity is linked to severe heart diseases such as strokes and ischemic attacks. Obese people are often found to have very high levels of triglycerides, cholesterol, and high blood pressure, which exerts unnecessary pressure in the arteries and may sometimes result in cardiac failures and attacks.
  • Diabetes
    Obese people are often found to indulge in binge eating (sudden overeating) which leads to the spiking of the blood sugar levels. It is commonly observed that people suffering from obesity often succumb to type 2 diabetes. Hence upon detection of obesity, obese people must keep a check on their blood sugar levels to avoid getting diabetes (a lifelong condition).
  • Polycystic ovarian syndrome
    Obesity in women is linked with a polycystic ovarian disease which is one of the major causes of infertility in women. Hence upon detection of obesity, a check on weight is to be strictly monitored along with the regular onset of menstruation. Irregular periods, an unexplained increase in weight and binge eating are to be strictly avoided to ensure prevention of polycystic ovarian disease.
  • Cushing's syndrome
    Scientific research hints that obesity is linked to Cushing's syndrome (a rare syndrome that results from the excess production of cortisol by the adrenal glands).
  • Hormonal disturbances
    A number of hormonal changes and disturbances begin to set in with obesity such as Hyperthyroidism (more than required thyroid hormone secretion), hirsutism (male pattern hair in females), Hypogonadism (low sperm count). However, there still isn't consensus in the medical community on whether these conditions are due to obesity or if they cause obesity.

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Alternative treatment for obesity

Here are a few proven alternative therapies and remedies for treating obesity. They come with minimal side effects. You are recommended to speak with your doctor before starting any of the therapies. 

Natural Remedies

There are various natural supplements which can be taken along with a low-fat diet and physical exercises, in order to burn more calories from the body. Green coffee extract, Green tea extract, Mint and ginger extract, Cinnamon powder, Parsley Juice, Coriander and Cucumber juice, Honey and Bay leave extract are few natural supplements which help in burning calories, absorbing fewer fats and dissolving absorbed fats of the body.

Further, these simple measures can also help you reduce obesity:

  • Never skip morning breakfast as it helps to provide a steady stream of energy all through the day. This, in turn, prevents unhealthy snacking and hunger pangs. 
  • Brisk walking is the best exercise to begin your day with. As soon as you wake up in the morning, workout for at least 30 mins to an hour.
  • Make a habit of drinking warm water in the morning. You can also add honey and lemon in warm water have it regularly the first thing in the morning.
  • Instead of eating only 2 meals, try to eat 4-6 more small meals, 2-3 hours apart during the day. This helps to increase the metabolic rate of the body.
  • Take some spices like ginger, cinnamon, black pepper in a daily diet.
  • Include in your diet green leafy vegetables, tomatoes, and carrots. They are low in calories, but high in vitamins and minerals and have real nutritive value.
  • Scientific studies indicate cabbage has a great nutritive value and is known to control obesity. Adding cabbage in a meal would be the simplest way to benefit its properties. However, washing the cabbage aseptically is highly recommended.
  • Adding multi-grains like ragi or oats can be helpful in decreasing the constant desire to eat, thus, reducing the daily calorie intake. It has a low glycemic index (sugar) and can help to suppress appetite. This is because multi-grains take time to digest and due to this, the carbohydrates take a longer time to get absorbed into the body. 

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Various Ayurvedic medications are available to treat obesity in the market. They are found to be effective because usually, the ingredients of these medicine mixture do not contain any artificial chemicals. Ayurvedic medicines are cost effective and easily available in the stores near you. There are also a lot of herbs available in nature which could help you reduce weight such as TriphalaflaxseedsAmla. They supposedly do not pose any threat to the natural functioning of the body.

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Pranayama and yoga postures are found to be excellent in managing obesity. There are two pranayama practices that are good for weight reduction they are Kapalbhati and Anulom Vilom Pranayama. Yoga postures like Surya Namaskara or the Sun Salutation postures are done in the early morning. Mayurasana or peacock pose, Hansasana and Pawanmuktasan. However, yoga asanas should be always done under supervision especially for people living with obesity. Other beneficial asanas are Matsyendrasana, Gomukhasana, Vajrasana, Paschimottanasana, Trikonasana, and Padahastasana. You are strongly recommended to consult your yoga teacher for the right combination of postures that suit your body type.

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Tips to reduce obesity faster

Here are a few easy tips by which you can effectively manage obesity.

  • Consume high fiber foods like vegetables, nuts, seeds, and berries which increase fullness, without increasing calories. Hence whenever you feel hungry snack on healthy seeds and foods. 
  • Consume only lean protein and foods rich in omega-3 fats. Obesity may increase inflammation, so try to include foods rich in proteins and omega-3 fats to help reduce inflammations. Coconut oil and coconut milk contain properties that help your body burn fats easily and make it less likely to be stored as compared to other saturated fats.
  • Take smaller meals instead of one large meal. Eat frequently ideally every 4 hours. This will save you from hunger pangs and overeating.  
  • Include essential oils such as olive oil, flaxseed oil this will help you in weight loss and keep your skin healthy.
  • Avoid foods that cause obesity. Strictly avoid high sugars, hidden sugars ( see product labels), processed and preserved food items.
  • Avoid refined flours, sweetened beverages (colas), and products made out of transfats. 
  • Avoid alcoholic drinks, it has been observed that people cannot resist on one serving and take more than 4-5 servings which account for more than 1000 calories uptake in one day.

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  1. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute [Internet]: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; Overweight and Obesity
  2. World Health Organization [Internet]. Geneva (SUI): World Health Organization; Obesity.
  3. Center for Disease Control and Prevention [internet], Atlanta (GA): US Department of Health and Human Services; Overweight & Obesity
  4. National Health Service [Internet]. UK; Obesity.
  5. National Health Information Center, Washington, DC [Internet] U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; Obesity Prevention

Medicines for Obesity

Medicines listed below are available for Obesity. Please note that you should not take any medicines without doctor consultation. Taking any medicine without doctor's consultation can cause serious problems.