What Is Obesity?

Obesity is almost a swear word, it is not something you say about someone to their face. What is obesity? What is it all about other than you are fat? What does it mean for men? How serious a problem is it?

A definition of obesity is that it is “a condition characterized by the excessive accumulation and storage of fat in the body” (Merriam-Webster). It is when a person’s “weight is higher than what is considered healthy for a given height, as measured by the Body Mass Index (BMI)” (Centers For Disease Control and Prevention). Looking at my own body, I am fascinated to see that I am obese, with a BMI of 30.4, while I feel and look relatively slim. Only this week a friend congratulated me on how I have lost weight and how good I am looking. My belly has gone and I feel fitter than I have for some years. But then obesity is about what is happening not what appears to be happening.

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'Conversations about Men & Masculinity', and 'A 40 Day Challenge for Men'.
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It is important to look at the difference between the three terms used for being above normal weight. They are overweight, obese and morbidly obese. There are subtle variations in the definitions but the following are the most useful.

  • Overweight: This is where you have a BMI between 25 and 30. This can cause physical problems but often you don’t look particularly abnormal.
  • Obese: This where you have a BMI between 30 and 35. The excess weight shows when you are obese.
  • Morbidly Obese: This is where you have a BMI of over 35. This is where there is visibly a problem and it is impossible to overlook the situation.

Health Problems

There are three major health problems for men caused by obesity. They are heart disease, type 2 diabetes and obstructive sleep apnoea. There are also several behavioural/psychological problems, such as erectile dysfunction, negative self-image and depression. Other problems of a more medical nature exist but I will not look at these in this article. If you have concerns about wider medical issues you should consult a medical practitioner.

From the above there are three areas that most interest me. These are the areas where the problems of obesity in men show up the most.

  • Type 2 Diabetes: This is the most prevalent problem caused by obesity. It is where your blood sugar is outside a normal range. It is a completely preventable condition that many people suffer from without realising. The physical effects can be severe and disabling. They include numbness in the feet and hands and detached retina.
  • Obstructive Sleep Apnoea: This problem shows itself through bad snoring. The snoring can be so bad that it seems like you have stopped breathing. In practice, this is what happens. Your throat closes and you stop breathing for a short period. Suffering from this stops you getting proper sleep and renders you tired all the time. It exacerbates any tendency to obesity, causing a vicious cycle.
  • Erectile dysfunction: While many psychological factors can cause this obesity is a common cause. Many men will mistake the cause in this situation and assume there is something ‘wrong’ with them. The simple fact is that they have too much fat on their bodies.

Causes of Obesity

Apart from possible of genetic or medical causes, the causes of obesity are simple. They are eating too much, eating the wrong food, drinking too much and not taking enough exercise. In men, the cause is often too much to drink, especially too much beer.

It comes down to putting excess sugar into your system, to the extent that the liver cannot deal with it. This is results in the body storing it as fat. Contrary to popular opinion it is not caused by too much fat in the diet, but too much sugar.

Regular exercise is a constant physical need that we have that we ignore at our peril. This does not mean that you need to undertake intensive workouts at the gym every day. It does mean simple exercise, such as walking, every day.

Cure for Obesity

The cure for obesity is also simple but hard to achieve, it is to…

  • eat less.
  • change what you eat.
  • take more exercise.

This does not mean going on a diet but it does mean changing your lifestyle, and changing it for the rest of your life. It is the need for a real commitment to change that makes the cure so hard for most people to achieve.

Obesity and Men

Apart from the above why do men become, and remain obese? Why are men so unwilling to do anything about it?

Historically people have seen obesity as meaning that you are wealthy. There is still a hangover of this attitude for many men, particularly men who are not young any more. Men see it as inevitable in middle-aged men and, thus, acceptable.

Many men reject concern about what they look like, they value their attitude to life far more. There can be a ‘macho’ attitude to eating and drinking that makes the problem worse. Having a beer with the boys can often be the core source of serious health problems later in life.

Men, being less concerned about their looks, can overlook the problem for many years. Often until it seems to be too late to do anything. This was my problem. It was only when my feet started to go numb that I realised I had a serious problem.

I had to deal with the issues of diabetes, apnoea and dysfunction. It was no longer just about too much fat!


I will dive into the areas covered in this article in more detail in future articles. Obesity is a problem that is out of control in western society, it is one that needs immediate attention. Men, especially, need to pay more attention to the causes of it and need o spend more time dealing with it.

Come back and read more about how this epidemic affects you.

Image Credit: Flickr/Sandra Cohen-Rose and Colin Rose (Creative Commons)

Journey to the Core of the Masculine
'Conversations about Men & Masculinity', and 'A 40 Day Challenge for Men'.
A powerful book that can transform your life as a man. Learn the insights that can set you free to live and love authentically.