What is obesity?

Obesity is a chronic disease, characterised by excess body fat.

It is the most common metabolic disorder in developed societies.

Causes of obesity

A certain genetic predisposition to the disease is involved in the development of obesity, but fundamentally it involves the presence of poor eating habits and lack of physical activity. In a few cases, it can be due to a genetic or hormonal disorder.

An unbalanced diet, rich in calories, fats, cakes, pastries, snacks, salt and low in fruit, vegetables and legumes, together with the low levels of physical exercise taken by most children, causes the energy ingested to be more than that expended by the body in physical activity and vital functions like breathing, digestion, the heart pumping blood, etc. These excess calories accumulate in our bodies in the form of fat and when this situation is sustained, excess weight and obesity appear over time.

The significance of excess weight

Currently, in developed and developing countries, the most common nutritional problem is overweight, in childhood and adolescence as well as adulthood.

In the Canary Islands, in the year 2000, approximately 1 in 5 children and young people under 24 years old were obese, and 1 in 3 was overweight. In many obese adults, the disease started in childhood or adolescence, which is why it is important to start prevention at an early age.

Overweight and obesity are the base for many chronic illnesses that generally manifest themselves in adulthood, but with increasing frequency in childhood and adolescence too, including:

  • Dyslipidemia (high cholesterol or triglycerides).
  • Diabetes (high blood sugar).
  • Hypertension (increased blood pressure).
  • Hepatica steatosis (fatty liver).
  • Coronary heart diseases (angina, myocardial acute infarction).
  • Cerebral vascular accident (Thrombosis or bleeding in the brain).
  • Sleep apnea (breathing interrupted by more than 10 seconds).
  • Bone and joint problems (Osteoarthritis).
  • Cholelithiasis (Gallstones).
  • Increased risk of some forms of cancer (colon, breast, uterus, ovary, prostate, bladder).

In addition, overweight people at this stage of life also frequently suffer psychological problems deriving from teasing or remarks from others, often associated with low self-esteem, symptoms of anxiety or depression, social isolation, etc.

How is excess body fat measured?

Using the Body Mass Index (BMI).

The formula used to calculate the index is as follows:

BMI = Weight (in kilograms) / Height² (in metres²)

For adults, age and sex are not taken into account, and the direct result indicates whether weight is in proportion to height, or whether it is too low, or whether there is excess weight or obesity.

In childhood and adolescence, however, we have to use BMI percentile graphs, taking account of age, and overweight is indicated by a BMI falling between the 90 and 97 percentiles, relative to age and sex, and obesity at or over 97, for the relative age and sex.

IMC niñas

girls BMI

E.g. A 7 ½ year old girl, weighing 35 kg, 132 cm tall, BMI = 20.09 kg/m² (percentile 90-97). Diagnosis: Overweight.

IMC niños

boys BMI

E.g. A 5 year old boy, weighing 25 kg, 111 cm tall, BMI = 20.29 kg/m² (percentile >97). Diagnosis: Obese.

The waist measurement is also useful as it´s a good indicator of the quantity of visceral fat (the fat inside the abdomen and which covers the viscera) and it also serves to indicate changes when slimming.

Adults with an increased level of intra-abdominal fast more frequently show alterations and diseases such as hypertension, dyslipidemia, or diabetes, which predispose them to the appearance, in early adulthood, of cardiovascular disease (myocardial infarction, cerebral thrombosis, etc.).

In adults, there is considered to be a very high cardiovascular risk when waist measurements exceed 102 cm in men and 88 cm in women.

In childhood and adolescence there is still no international consensus on the risk values for wait measurements, but in children and adults alike, an increase in abdominal fat has been linked with a greater presence of risk factors for cardiovascular disease.

Tips to follow a healthy diet

  • Eat a varied diet including foods from all groups (fruit, vegetables, legumes, cereals, meat, fish, milk, eggs, etc.)
  • Eat 5 meals a day as a regular schedule.
  • Eat a proper breakfast. A good breakfast should include 3 food groups: dairy products (milk, cheese or yoghurt), cereals (bread, cereals, toast, biscuits, etc.) and fresh fruit (whole or juice/shakes).
  • Don´t snack between meals.
  • Drink between 1 and 2 litres of water a day.
  • Eat at least 2 or 3 pieces of fruit and 2 servings of vegetables a day.
  • Avoid extra calories with or without nutritional value (soft drinks, sports drinks, commercial juices).
  • Avoid too much fat, limit fried and deep foods, sausage, patés, red meat, puddings and cakes, butter, margarine, mature cheeses, mayonnaise, etc.
  • Eat seated, without rushing and chew well.
  • Don´t do other things while eating (watching TV, videogames, etc.)
  • Use smaller plates (helps to moderate servings).
  • Complement the diet with daily physical exercise according to age, condition and preference.


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