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Obese woman standing on scales.

Obesity describes someone who is very overweight with a high degree of body fat.

Obesity is a term used to describe somebody who is very overweight with a high degree of body fat.

Being a little overweight may not cause many noticeable problems, but once you are carrying a few extra kilograms, you may develop symptoms that affect your daily life.

The most widely used method to assess a person’s weight is the body mass index (BMI), which is your weight in kilograms divided by your height in metres squared.

If your BMI is:

  • between 25 and 29, you would be considered overweight
  • between 30 and 40, you would be considered obese
  • over 40, you would be considered very obese.

Another useful method is to measure around your waist. Men whose waist measurement is 94 cm or more and women whose waist measurment is 80 cm or more are more likely to develop obesity-related health problems, such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease and some types of cancer.

As obese children also tend to be obese in later life, it is important for parents to set the right example for their children from an early age.

Source: NHS Choices, UK (Obesity, Symptoms of obesity, Preventing obesity)

Just diagnosed

If you are overweight or obese, visit your doctor to find out if you are at increased risk of health problems, and how you can safely lose weight.

Things to talk to your doctor about include:

  • any underlying causes for your obesity – for example, if you are on certain medicine or have a medical condition that causes weight gain
  • your lifestyle - particularly your diet and how much physical activity you do, and also whether you smoke, and how much alcohol you drink
  • how you feel about being overweight – for example, if you are feeling depressed about it
  • how motivated you are to lose weight
  • your family history of obesity and other health conditions, such as diabetes (a condition caused by too much glucose in the blood).

As well as calculating your BMI, your doctor may also perform tests including measuring your blood pressure, the distance around your waist, as well as glucose (sugar) and lipid (fat) levels in your blood.

Source: NHS Choices, UK (Diagnosing obesity)

Living with

There is no 'magic wand' treatment for obesity. Weight loss programs take commitment and can be challenging, but they can be successful for people who stick with them.

If you want to lose weight, you will have to combine a kilojoule-controlled diet with regular exercise. Choose physical activities that you enjoy and you should aim to start gradually – possibly 15 to 20 minutes of exercise five times a week - and then build on it.

A great way to reduce your daily kilojoule intake is to swap unhealthy and high energy food choices, such as fast food, processed food and sugary drinks (including alcohol), for healthier choices.

These changes are important, because obesity causes day-to-day problems such as:

  • breathlessness   
  • increased sweating
  • snoring or difficulty sleeping
  • inability to cope with sudden physical activity
  • feeling very tired every day
  • back and joint pains.

Obesity can also cause harmful changes you may not notice, such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels. It can also damage your quality of life and can often trigger depression.

Source: NHS Choices, UK (Obesity, Treating obesity, Symptoms of obesity)

Facts & figures

  • Rates of overweight and obesity are continuing to rise in Australia.
  • 3 in 5 Australian adults are overweight or obese (based on BMI). That's over 12 million people.
  • There are 5% more overweight or obese adults today than in 1995.
  • 1 in 4 Australian children are overweight or obese.
  • Over 30% more people living in outer regional and remote areas are obese than people living in major cities.
  • Overweight and obesity is only beaten by smoking and high blood pressure as a contributor to the burden of disease.

Source: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (Overweight and obesity)

Last reviewed: 
February, 2013