Obesity Facts

What is obesity?

The World Health Organisation defines being overweight and obesity as “abnormal or excessive fat accumulation that may impair health”.¹

Obesity is a complex disorder that involves too much body fat. Obesity increases your risk of diseases and health problems, like:

• heart disease;
• diabetes; and
• high blood pressure.

If you are extremely obese, your excess weight is very likely to cause you health problems.²

In 2008, more than 1.4 billion adults worldwide were overweight and more than half a billion were obese. The number of people who were obese nearly doubled between 1980 and 2008. At least 2.8 million people each year die as a result of being overweight or obese.¹

How do you measure obesity?

The most common way to measure obesity is to work out Body Mass Index (BMI).³

To work out your BMI, you first need to find out:
• how many kilograms (kg) you weigh; and
• what height you are in metres (m).

You then:
• divide your weight in kilograms by your height in metres; and
• divide that answer by your height again to get your BMI.

How to calculate your BMI

To calculate your BMI click on the button below:

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For most adults, a BMI of:³
• 18.5 to 24.9 means you’re a healthy weight;
• 25 to 29.9 means you’re overweight;
• 30 to 39.9 means you’re obese; and
• 40 or above means you’re severely obese.

Measuring excess fat

While BMI measures obesity, we need more information about body fat if someone is overweight (with a BMI of 25 to 29.9) or moderately obese (with a BMI of 30 to 34.9). A good way to do this is to find out the circumference of a person’s waist.⁴ Circumference is the measure around your body above your hip bone.

A better measure of excess fat is waist circumference. Waist circumference is considered a reasonable indicator of visceral fat. Visceral fat is deep fat that’s stored underneath the skin and is wrapped around major organs, including the liver, pancreas and kidneys. This fat is closely associated with increased risk of comorbidity.³

Men with a waist circumference of 94cm (37 inches) or more; and women with a waist circumference of 80cm (about 31.5 inches) or more; are more likely to develop obesity-related health problems.⁴

What are the risks of obesity?

Being overweight or obese are major risk factors for some chronic (long-term) diseases¹ like⁴:
• type 2 diabetes;
• coronary heart disease;
• some types of cancer, such as breast cancer and bowel cancer; and
• stroke.

Obesity can also affect your quality of life and lead to psychological problems, like depression and low self-esteem.⁴

What causes obesity?

The main cause of obesity and being overweight is an energy imbalance between calories consumed and calories used.⁵ Globally, people are:
• taking in more energy-dense foods that are high in fat; and
• getting less exercise due to:
• the increasingly sedentary (spending a lot of time sitting down) nature of many forms of work,
• changing transportation, and
• more people living in an urban environment.

Obesity is an increasingly common problem because for many people modern living involves eating excessive amounts of cheap, high-calorie food and spending a lot of time sitting down, at desks, on sofas or in cars.⁴

How can you treat obesity?

The best way to treat obesity is to eat a healthy, reduced-calorie diet and exercise regularly.

Eat less
• Limit how much energy you take in from fats and sugars.⁴

Eat more
• Eat more fruit and vegetables.
• Eat more legumes (peas and beans), whole grains and nuts.⁴

• Take regular physical activity:
• an hour a day for children; and
• Two and a half hours spread through the week for adults.⁴

Eat a balanced diet
• Eat a balanced, calorie-controlled diet as recommended by your GP or weight loss management health professional.⁵
• Eat slowly and avoid situations where you know you could be tempted to eat too much.⁵

What are the benefits of 5 – 10% weight loss?

You can dramatically improve your health and reduce your likelihood of developing overweight- or obesity-related medical conditions by achieving a 5-10% weight loss.

If you are overweight or obese and reduce your weight by 5-10%, the benefits to your health mean you will reduce the risk of developing:⁶
• cancer;
• diabetes; and
• cardiovascular-related diseases.

You will also:
• reduce your blood pressure;
• increase your HDL cholesterol (HDL is the ‘good’ cholesterol); and
• improve any sleep apnoea, snoring and disruptive sleeping patterns.


  1. http://www.who.int/features/factfiles/obesity/facts/en/
  2. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/obesity/basics/definition/con-20014834
  3. https://www.worldobesity.org/data/cut-points-used/
  4. http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/Obesity/Pages/Introduction.aspx
  5. http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs311/en/
  6. https://www.icgp.ie/go/library/catalogue/item/DF2B8347-BCBE-4C31-94546BC305B29780
  7. http://www.obesityaction.org/educational-resources/resource-articles-2/general-articles/benefits-of-5-10-percent-weight-loss

IE/MYS/1017/0077b | Date of preparation: October 2017

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