Overweight is caused by taking in more calories than are used. Calories are taken in through food. Physical activity and basic body functions use calories. If more calories are eaten than used, then weight gain will happen.

Factors that can influence the development of obesity include:

  • Genetics and family history
  • Environment
  • Behaviors
  • Race, ethnicity, and culture

Risk Factors

Factors that may increase your chance of becoming overweight include:

  • Personal history of obesity as a child
  • Family history of obesity
  • Eating large portions of food
  • Sedentary lifestyle—getting too little exercise and spending too much time in front of a television or computer
  • Eating until full and eating quickly
  • High level of fast food intake
  • High alcohol consumption
  • Working varied shifts
  • Not getting enough sleep
  • Medications, such as corticosteroids, antidepressants, or antipsychotics
  • Medical conditions such as
    • Underactive thyroid
    • Cushing's disease
    • Polycystic ovary syndrome



Symptoms may include:

  • Increased weight
  • Thickness around the midsection
  • Obvious areas of fat deposits


The doctor will ask about symptoms and past health. A physical exam will be done. Obesity is diagnosed by visual exam and body measurements using:

  • Height and weight tables
  • Body mass index
  • Measuring body folds with a caliper
  • Measuring waist circumference
  • Water-displacement tests



Obesity is difficult to treat. Things that affect treatment are:

  • Cultural factors
  • Personal habits and behavior
  • Lifestyle
  • Genetics

There are many different options to treating obesity. A mix of treatments may be most successful. It should include changes in diet, activity, counseling, or medicine.

You may need to try different diets before you see results. Diets may be designed by:

  • Registered dietitians—talk to your doctor about a referral
  • Hospitals
  • Internet- or commercial-based organizations such as Weight Watchers or Atkins


Different steps may help you. This may include avoiding certain types of foods. In general, the focus will be on increasing:

  • Proteins
  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Whole grains

At the same time reduce:

  • Saturated fats
  • Refined carbohydrates—white breads, pasta, or rice
  • Processed foods

Your and your doctor will find a plan that works best for you.

Calorie Intake

The key to weight loss is to reduce the total number of calories that you eat. Following a specific kind of diet, like a low-carb diet, is not necessary. It is much more important to choose a low calorie diet that you can stick with.

Portion, or serving size, also plays an important role. Learning how to read nutrition labels may help you succeed.

Food Diary

Keep track of everything you eat and drink. There are several tracking apps that can be used on your phone or tablet. It makes tracking much easier.


Ask your doctor about an exercise program. Even moderate-intensity exercise, like brisk walking, can help you lose weight.

There are many easy ways to add extra activity into your day. Take stairs instead of elevators. Park your car a little further away. Limit the amount of time you spend watching television. Decrease computer time and substitute it with activity.

There are many tools to help you track and measure your activity. This includes counting the number of steps throughout the day. Many of these tools can connect to apps on your phone or tablets.

Improve Sleep

Poor sleep can increase your risk of weight gain. Fatigue may also make you want to eat more and move less. Making small adjustments to your routine will help improve sleep:

  • Get on a regular sleep schedule. Go to bed and get up around the same time every day. Continue even on your days off.
  • Reduce noise, temperature, and light in the bedroom.
  • Avoid caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol before bed.
  • Eat a light dinner and avoid heavy evening meals.
  • Create a relaxing routine before bed. Try taking a warm bath or reading a book.

Sleep apnea interferes with sleep. If you snore loudly or stop breathing during the night, talk to your doctor about getting a sleep test . Sleep apnea is treatable and it will improve your overall health.

Behavior Therapy

Behavior therapy may help you understand:

  • When you tend to overeat
  • Why you tend to overeat
  • How to combat overeating habits

When combined with diet and exercise, therapy can help you with your weight reduction.

Weight Loss Programs

Weight loss programs may work for some people. A partner or group may also help you improve your eating habits and fitness.


Weight loss medicine may be prescribed. Medicine alone is not enough to lose weight and keep it off. Some medicine can have serious side effects. There are also risks associated with over the counter medicine and herbal products. Talk to your doctor before taking any of these.

Bariatric Surgery

Bariatric surgery makes the stomach smaller. In some cases, it will also rearrange the digestive tract. The smaller stomach can only hold a tiny portion of food at a time. Examples of procedures include:

These procedures may be a good option for people who are severely obese. It may also be recommended for people who are having trouble losing weight by other means.

Gastric Bypass
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Balloon Procedure

This option uses a balloon type tool. This balloon fills up the stomach creating a feeling of fullness. The device is inserted into the mouth and passed to the stomach. The device is removed 6 months after it is placed. Talk to your doctor for more information about this procedure.


Losing weight can be difficult. It is best to avoid weight gain. To reduce your chances of getting overweight:

  • Keep track of your weight.
  • Talk to your doctor or a dietitian about your daily calorie needs.
  • Learn to eat smaller portions of food.
  • Limit the amount of time you spend doing sedentary activities. This includes watching TV or using the computer.

Talk to your doctor or an exercise professional about working activity into your daily life.

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.

Edits to original content made by Denver Health.