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Obesity and Your Family

Woman pinches fat

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Obesity is an epidemic in this country that is continuing to increase each year. It is now estimated that two out of every three adults are overweight or obese. Approximately one out of every three adults is obese. Studies indicate that people with developmental disabilities are even more likely to be overweight than people without disabilities.

Many of us are uncomfortable talking about obesity. Obesity, however, is more than just an issue of appearance. In fact, obesity is now the leading cause of preventable death. People with obesity have a life expectancy reduced by 8-13 years, depending upon gender. Obesity is considered to be a chronic medical condition that is caused by a variety of factors.

Health Risks

People who are overweight or obese are more likely to develop certain health problems than people who have a healthy weight. Health problems that people who are overweight or obese are likely to have, or develop, include:

  • high blood pressure;
  • heart problems;
  • diabetes; and
  • arthritis.

There are other health problems that also may develop because of being overweight or obese. Some of these problems include:

  • stroke;
  • some types of cancer;
  • sleep apnea;
  • gall bladder problems;
  • liver disease; and
  • bladder control problems.

Overweight or Obese?

Being overweight and being obese are actually two different conditions depending upon the amount of excess body fat a person has. The Body Mass Index (BMI) is commonly used to determine if a person is of a healthy weight, is overweight, or is obese.

The following table can be used as a general guide for determining a persons BMI. Sometimes the BMI score for a person may either overestimate or underestimate the amount of body fat. It is always best to discuss the BMI score with your health care professional.

In addition, BMI calculators are available through the internet (see

A persons BMI score usually means the following:

Weight Category

BMI Score


Below 18.5

Healthy weight

18.5 to 24.9


25 to 29.9


30.0 and above


There are different factors that affect a person's health risk relative to their BMI score. Higher BMI scores are associated with greater risk for the health problems noted above. Other factors include limited physical activity, high cholesterol, smoking, high blood sugar, personal or family history of heart disease, and excess abdominal or stomach fat. Men have an increased risk for disease if their waist circumference is greater than 40 inches. Women have an increased risk if their waist circumference is greater than 35 inches.

Benefits of Weight Loss

It may be surprising to know that even a small weight loss, as little as 5% to 15% of total body weight, reduces the risk factors for some conditions, especially heart disease. Weight loss can also result in lower blood sugar, lower blood pressure, and improved cholesterol levels. For example, a person who is 54 and weighs 180 pounds would have a BMI score of 31 and would be considered obese. Losing 5% to 15% of total body weight would be 9 to 27 pounds. This relatively small amount of weight loss could improve overall health and well-being.

Any of us who have been on a weight loss program knows how easy it is to become discouraged. At times it may feel like it is impossible to lose all the weight that should be lost. Achieving even a small weight loss is a success since it reduces body mass as well as the risks of serious medical problems.

Working Toward a Healthier Weight

Listed below are steps that may be taken to help you or your family member work toward a healthier weight. It is best to obtain guidance from your health care professional. Due to various medical conditions, some people should only lose weight under the close supervision of a physician. Your health care professional is in the best position to advise you and your family member.

Establish a reasonable target weight.

  • Discuss the BMI score with your health care provider and have him or her assess the related risk factors for disease and health problems.
  • Depending upon a person's circumstances, a reasonable target goal may be a weight loss of 10% of body weight over six months.
  • For some, a minimum goal may be to prevent any further weight gain.
  • It is best to lose weight gradually; 1 to 2 pounds a week is reasonable.
  • Keep in mind that small amounts of weight loss can have a positive health impact.

Have a healthy diet.

  • Talk with your health care professional about diet changes that should be made to support weight loss. There are many types of diet plans and programs available. It can be confusing trying to determine what diet may work best for you.
  • The number of calories consumed will need to be reduced, usually reducing within the range of 500 to 1000 calories per day. First, however, it is important to learn the number of calories needed to maintain a given weight. To calculate the number of calories needed to maintain a certain weight, the following formulas can be used:
    • For women who are moderately active, multiply your current weight by 15. If typically inactive, multiply your current weight in pounds by 13. Example: for a moderately active woman weighing 150 lbs., caloric needs can be calculated as 150 x 15 for a total of 2250 calories per day to maintain that weight.
    • For men who are moderately active, multiply your current weight by 16.5. If typically inactive, multiply your current weight by 14. Example: a typically inactive man weighing 220 lbs., caloric needs can be calculated as 220 x 14 for a total of 3080 calories per day to maintain that weight.
  • Have a clear plan about the kinds of foods to eat and the amount of food to eat. As a general guideline, a healthy diet includes a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean sources of protein.
  • Whatever the food, make sure that proper portions are maintained.

Be as active as possible!

  • Any kind of physical activity is beneficial. Not only can it assist with weight loss and maintenance, it also improves health in many ways.
  • Physical activity doesn't have to be just exercise. Any activity involving movement of the body is beneficial. For example, walking is one easy and inexpensive way to increase physical activity.
  • Before starting any program, discuss the physical activity plan with your health care professional. Your health care professional will assist you in developing a reasonable activity plan.
  • Work toward a long-term goal of at least 30 minutes of a moderate physical activity on most days of the week. This physical activity doesn't have to occur all at one time; rather, it can be in shorter intervals that add up to 30 minutes at the end of the day.
  • If you or your family member has limited mobility, explore with your health care professional or other clinical professional how you can safely increase physical activity.
  • It is best to start any new physical activity gradually, taking special care to prevent injury.

Weigh every week and keep records.

  • People who weigh at least once a week tend to be more successful at maintaining a weight loss.
  • Keeping records like a weight chart is helpful for some people as one can see overall progress as well as any increases in weight.
  • Keeping a record of food consumed each day can help maintain the focus on the diet plan and provide additional information related to progress.
  • Keeping an activity chart can help in keeping track of whether physical activity goals are being met.

Consult with your family members and service coordinator.

  • Obtain assistance in identifying the supports needed to help achieve and maintain weight loss.
  • Ask that other clinical professionals be involved as needed. This may include a dietitian, therapist, or nurse.
  • If you or your family member has had trouble sticking with diets in the past, explore what the problems were and possible options for overcoming past obstacles.
  • Consider becoming involved with some type of weight loss support group or a physical activity group. Consider getting together with friends or neighbors on a regular basis for such things as mall walking or aerobics, yoga, or free swim periods at a community recreation center.
  • Keep in mind that small steps can add up to big gains!

Additional Information

Review the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

Review The Practical Guide: Identification, Evaluation, and Treatment of Overweight and Obesity in Adults.

Sources: National Institutes of Health, National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, North American Association for the Study of Obesity; Office of the U.S. Surgeon General; American Obesity Association; Centers for Disease Control, National Center for Health Statistics; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; U.S. Department of Agriculture.

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Last updated on Mon, 06/14/2010 - 15:19