Blue Cross Blue Shield of Mississippi
What is Obesity

What is obesity?

Obesity is a complex chronic disease involving excessive body fat. It is a medical problem that increases risks for other health conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and some cancers.


Obesity is a growing problem worldwide. In the United States, 42.4% of adults were classified as obese in 2017. This is up from 30.5% in 2000. In Mississippi, 40.8% of adults are considered obese.

How is obesity diagnosed?

Obesity is often diagnosed using BMI, or Body Mass Index, which is a measure of a person’s weight in relation to their height. A person is considered obese if their BMI is 30.0 or higher.

The formula to calculate BMI is:

(weight in pounds x 703)
height in inches2

For example, a person who is 5 feet 8 inches tall and weighs 205 pounds would have a BMI of 31.2

(205 x 703)
= 31.2

BMI is not a direct measure of body fat or health. However, in most cases, BMI provides a reasonable estimate for body fat and chronic disease risk, so it is often used as a screening tool to identify a person’s health risks. The table below outlines how weight status is classified by BMI.

BMI Weight Status

Below 18.5


18.5 to 24.9

Healthy Weight

25.0 to 29.9


30 or higher


You should discuss your BMI with your primary healthcare provider if you are not sure if you are at risk. Waist circumference is also used along with BMI to further assess risk.

What contributes to Obesity?

There are many factors that contribute to obesity, such as genetics, behavior, metabolic and hormonal influences, and social and economic factors. However, obesity ultimately occurs when you take in more calories than you burn through normal daily activities and exercise.

Unfortunately, the typical American diet is very high in calories, sugar, and saturated fat, which are often found in fast foods, convenience foods, and sugary beverages.

Many jobs have also become much less physically demanding which leads to physical inactivity and a sedentary lifestyle. This combination if high calorie intake with low physical activity is a recipe for overweight and obesity.

Long-term consequences of Obesity

People with obesity have a higher risk for developing one or more of the following chronic conditions:

  • Type 2 diabetes: When you consume carbohydrates, insulin is produced by the pancreas to move sugar out of the blood and into cells to be used for energy. Obesity causes your cells to become less responsive to insulin, which results in too much sugar in the blood. As the pancreas produces more and more insulin to help reduce blood sugar, it can eventually wear out resulting in the need for diet modification and/or medications to help control the amount of sugar in the blood.

  • High blood pressure: Excess fat in the body increases the amount of work the heart has to do to pump blood throughout the body. The excess fat also other organs and hormones which contribute to high blood pressure as well.

  • Heart disease and stroke: Obesity is often paired with increased levels of cholesterol and triglycerides which can lead to plaque buildup in the blood vessels. This plaque buildup, along with high blood pressure and diabetes, significantly increases risk for heart attack and stroke.

  • Certain Cancers: Obesity is associated with increased risk for 13 types of cancer which account for about 40% of all cancers diagnosed in the US in 2014. These include meningioma, multiple myeloma, adenocarcinoma of the esophagus, and cancers of the thyroid, postmenopausal breast, gallbladder, stomach, liver, pancreas, kidney, ovaries, uterus, colon, and rectum.

  • Severe COVID-19 symptoms: Obesity has also been found to increase risk for severe COVID-19-associated illness, hospitalization, and death.

Treating Obesity

The goal with obesity is to reach and stay at a healthy weight which improves overall health and lowers risk for the chronic illnesses discussed above. Even modest weight loss of 5% to 10% can result in significant reductions in risk factors and improvements in health.

Working with a team of health professionals, including a physician, dietitian, behavioral counselor, or an obesity specialist, can help ensure that any dietary and exercise changes to promote weight loss are done so in healthy ways.

The key aspects of any weight loss program include calorie reduction and increased physical activity. There is no “best” diet or exercise program except for the one that works for you. Focus on making changes that can easily fit into your lifestyle as they are more likely to be sustainable long-term leading to long-term success.

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