Obesity Screening


What is obesity screening?

Obesity is the condition of having too much body fat. It's not just a matter of appearance. Obesity can put you at risk for a variety of chronic and serious health problems. These include:

Experts say obesity is major problem in the U.S. Today more than 30 percent of U.S. adults and 20 percent of U.S. children have obesity. Children with obesity are at risk for many of the same health problems as adults with obesity.

An obesity screening may use a measurement called a BMI (body mass index) and other tests to find out if you or your child is overweight or has obesity. Being overweight means you have excess body weight. While not as severe as obesity, it may also lead to serious health problems.

What is a BMI?

A BMI (body mass index) is a calculation based on your weight and height. While it's hard to directly measure fat on the body, a BMI can provide a good estimate.

To measure BMI, your health care provider may use an online tool or an equation that uses your weight and height information. You can measure your own BMI in much the same way by using an online BMI calculator.

Your results will fall into one of these categories:

  • Below 18.5: Underweight
  • 18.5-24.9: Healthy weight
  • 25 -29.9: Overweight
  • 30 and above: Obese
  • 40 or higher: Severely obese, also known as morbidly obese

BMI is also used to diagnose obesity in children, but it is figured out differently than in adults. Your child's health care provider will calculate BMI based on your child's age, sex, weight, and height. He or she will compare those numbers with the results of other children with similar characteristics.

The results will be in the form of a percentile. A percentile is a type of comparison between an individual and a group. For example, if your child has a BMI in the 50th percentile, it means 50 percent of children of the same age and sex have a lower BMI. Your child's BMI will show one of the following results:

  • Less than the 5th percentile: Underweight
  • 5th-84th percentile: Normal Weight
  • 85th-94th percentile: Overweight
  • 95th percentile and higher: Obese

What causes obesity?

Obesity happens when you take in more calories than your body needs over a long period of time. A variety of factors can lead to obesity. For many people, dieting and willpower alone are not enough to control weight. Obesity may be caused by one or more of the following:

  • Diet. You are at a higher risk of obesity if your diet includes a lot of fast foods, packaged snacks, and sugary soft drinks.
  • Lack of exercise. If you don't get enough physical activity to burn off what you eat, you will likely gain weight.
  • Family history. You're more likely to become obese if close family members have obesity.
  • Aging. As you get older, your muscle tissue decreases and your metabolism slows down. This can lead to weight gain, and eventually obesity, even if you stayed at a healthy weight when you were younger.
  • Pregnancy. It's normal and healthy to gain weight during pregnancy. But if you don't lose the weight after pregnancy, it can cause long-term weight problems.
  • Menopause. Many women gain weight after menopause. This may be caused by changes in hormone levels and/or reduction in daily activities.
  • Biology. Our bodies have systems that help keep our weight at a healthy level. In some people, this system doesn't work right. This makes it especially hard to lose weight.
  • Hormonal disorders. Certain disorders cause your body to make too much or too little of important hormones. This may lead to weight gain, and sometimes obesity.

What is an obesity screening used for?

An obesity screening is used to find out if you or your child is at an unhealthy weight. If the screening shows that you or your child is overweight or has obesity, your provider will check to see if there is medical issue causing the excess weight. Your provider will also teach you about what you can do to reduce your weight and improve your health.

Why do I need obesity screening?

Most adults and children over the age of 6 should be screened at least once a year with a BMI. If your health care provider finds that you have a high or increasing BMI, he or she can recommend steps you can take to help prevent you from becoming overweight or obese.

What happens during an obesity screening?

In addition to a BMI, an obesity screening may include:

  • A physical exam
  • A measurement around your waist. Excess fat around the waist can put you at an even higher risk for obesity-related health problems, including heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
  • Blood tests to check for diabetes and/or medical conditions that may be causing weight gain.

Will I need to do anything to prepare for an obesity screening?

You may need to fast (not eat or drink) for certain types of blood tests. Your health care provider will let you know if you need to fast and if there are any special instructions to follow.

Are there any risks to the screening?

There is no risk to having a BMI or a waist measurement. There is very little risk to having a blood test. You may have slight pain or bruising at the spot where the needle was put in, but most symptoms go away quickly.

What do the results mean?

The results of your BMI and waist measurement may show that you are in one of the following categories:

  • Underweight
  • Healthy weight
  • Overweight
  • Obese
  • Severely obese

Your blood tests may show whether you have a hormonal disorder. Blood tests may also show if you have or are at risk for diabetes.

Is there anything else I should know about an obesity screening?

If your results show that you or your child is overweight or obese, talk to your health care provider about treatment options. There are many ways to treat obesity. Treatment will depend on the cause of the weight problem and how much weight loss is recommended. Options may include:

  • Eating a healthier, lower calorie diet
  • Getting more exercise
  • Behavioral help from a mental health counselor and/or support group
  • Prescription weight loss medicines
  • Weight loss surgery. This surgery, also called bariatric surgery, makes changes to your digestive system. This limits the amount of food you are able to eat. It's only used for people with severe obesity and who have tried other weight loss methods that haven't worked.

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