What Is Obesity?

Obesity is a chronic disease that keeps your body from working well. People of all ages, shapes, and fitness levels may have obesity.

Why is it important to treat obesity?

  • Obesity is a chronic disease. While it cannot be cured, it can be managed.
  • Obesity keeps your body from working well, and it is linked to many diseases.
  • Obesity is complex, and your body may work against you when you try to lose weight.
  • Managing obesity takes time. You and your healthcare team will work together to reach your goals.

Risk Factors for Obesity

  • Social and environmental factors
  • Stress
  • Some medicines
  • Some diseases, such as polycystic ovary syndrome
  • Low levels of physical activity
  • Not getting enough sleep
  • Genetics or family history of obesity
  • Age
  • Race and ethnicity

How is obesity measured?

Body Fat Percentage

Body fat percentage helps identify if extra weight is a health risk. Healthy averages are 8-14% in men and 21-33% in women.

Waist Circumference

Waist circumference measures your waist just above your hip bone. If this is 40 inches or more in females, or 35 inches or more in males, you may be at higher risk for other diseases.

Body Mass Index

Body mass index, also known as BMI, compares your height to weight. It is not ideal because it does not measure your muscle mass.

How is Obesity Managed?


Nutrition is an important part of an obesity management plan.

  • Track what you eat and drink in a notebook or an app.
  • Find an eating plan that works for you:
    • Cut back on portion sizes. Portion sizes help you manage what you eat. Visit myplate.gov to help.
    • Choose whole foods, including whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.
    • Choose foods high in fiber, such as beans, nuts, fruits, and vegetables.
    •  Choose lean, unprocessed meats and fatty fish.
    • Choose good fats, such as nuts, olives, and avocados.
    • Increase water intake.
    • Limit salt intake, and limit or avoid sugary drinks and alcohol.
Food Graphic_What is Obesity

Physical Activity

  • Make a plan for how to be active each day.
  • Aim for 30 minutes of activity at least 5 times a week. This can be all at once or in smaller amounts of time, such as 10 minutes three times a day.
  • Make muscles stronger by lifting weights, water bottles, or canned food at least twice a week.
  • Be creative about how to move more and sit less, and pick something you enjoy!
  • Don’t forget to warm up before and cool down after.
  • Increase the amount and intensity of physical activity over time.

Medicines and Obesity

  • Along with eating healthy foods and keeping active, you may be prescribed medicine to help treat your obesity.
  • Medicines can help manage your hunger, lower your weight, improve your health, and improve your quality of life.
  • Like the medicine you may take for other diseases such as high blood pressure or diabetes, it is important to take your obesity medicine as directed.

How do other medicines affect obesity?

  • Many common medicines can make obesity worse.
  • Tell your healthcare providers about the other medicines and
    supplements you take.
  • You may be able to take a lower dose of medicine or take a different medicine that will not affect your weight.


  • For some people, surgery may be an option. Your support and healthcare team
  • Having someone to talk to can help you in your journey. Counselors and online or in-person support groups can make a big difference.
  • Nurses and doctors help coordinate your overall care.
  • Dieticians and nutrition experts can help you make healthy food choices.
  • Pharmacists and obesity management programs can help with medicines for weight reduction.
  • Other specialists can help if you have questions about your bones, feet, heart, or lungs.

What Can I Do if I Have Obesity?

Setting SMART goals can help you manage obesity.

SMART Goals Can Help Manage Your Obesity

SMART Goal Examples

  • Nutrition - This week, I will drink only 1 bottle of soda each day, instead of 2 bottles.
  • Physical Activity - I will park farther away from the front door of the store, to help me more more.

Disclaimer: While PCNA strives to provide reliable, up-to-date health information, this and other PCNA education materials are for informational purposes only and not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Only your healthcare provider can diagnose and treat a medical problem.