What Is Obesity?

Jory Cross by Jory Cross | Licensed since 2012
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This article was updated on: 09/15/2018

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According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), over one-third of all adults in America are obese; obesity is a major contributor to the leading causes of preventable death. Obesity is most prevalent among those ages 40 and older, and of those ages 60 and above, over 35% are considered obese, according to the CDC’s 2014 statistics.

How is obesity defined?

Being overweight and being obese are not the same thing. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), obesity is defined as having too much body fat, while being overweight simply means you weigh too much. Obesity is measured by your Body Mass Index, or BMI. If your BMI is 30 or above, you are considered obese by medical standards. Here’s an example for a person who is 5 feet, 9 inches tall:

  • Underweight (BMI below 18.5) – 124 lbs or less
  • Healthy weight (BMI 18.5 to 24.9) – 125 to 168 lbs
  • Overweight (BMI 25 to 29.9) – 169 to 202 lbs
  • Obese(BMI 30 or above) – 203 pounds or above
  • Class 3/High-Risk Obese (BMI 40 or higher) – 271 pounds or above

You can calculate your BMI using the CDC’s calculator.

What are the complications of obesity?

Obesity isn’t just a cosmetic problem; it is a major contributing factor to a number of serious, potentially life-threatening health conditions and complications, according to the National Institute of Health (NIH), including:

  • Coronary heart disease, heart failure, angina, and heart attack
  • High blood pressure
  • Stroke
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • High cholesterol
  • Certain types of cancer including liver, kidney, esophageal, breast, or gallbladder and more
  • Sleep apnea

Obesity is also one of several markers for metabolic syndrome (high blood pressure, high blood sugar, high cholesterol, and large waistline), a condition that greatly increases your risk for heart disease, diabetes and stroke.

According to the NIH, the best way to prevent obesity is to lead a healthy lifestyle, including a healthy diet, good sleep, and regular exercise.

What obesity treatments are available?

Depending on your weight and risk factors or complications, your health-care provider may approach obesity treatment in a number of ways. For some, a weight loss program consisting of reduced caloric intake, nutrition counseling, physical exercise, and behavioral therapy to help you recognize the situations that cause you to overeat is the best place to start.

The NIH suggests that if diet and exercise are not leading to weight loss of one pound per week over a six month period, or if you have risk factors for heart disease, you may be a candidate for prescription drug therapy to complement your diet regimen. Obesity medications might include gastrointestinal medications to reduce the amount of fat you absorb from your diet or brain medications to control your appetite.

If other obesity treatments have failed, or you are extremely obese (BMI of 40 or above) or have obesity-related life-threatening conditions (sleep apnea, cardiomyopathy, type 2 diabetes) with a BMI of 35 or more, you may be a candidate for weight-loss surgery, which may include gastric bypass surgery, gastrectomy, and gastric banding. All of these surgeries physically limit the amount of food that you can eat in one meal.

Does Medicare pay for obesity treatment?

Under Original Medicare (Part A and Part B), you may be covered for any medically- necessary treatment you receive for obesity or obesity-related health complications you receive in a hospital as an inpatient, or as an outpatient in a qualifying facility, or at your doctor’s office. This may include coverage for weight loss surgery if you meet certain eligibility and health requirements. You may be responsible for copayments, coinsurance, and deductibles.

In addition, Part B covers obesity screenings and screening for obesity-related complications such as diabetes and high cholesterol; you may be eligible to receive these tests at no cost to you if your provider accepts Medicare assignment. Part B may also cover nutritional counseling and nutrition therapy if you meet certain eligibility requirements. Some counseling may require that you have a BMI of 30 or more or have diabetes.

If you are enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan, your plan may also include benefits such as fitness and wellness programs to help you manage your weight; some even offer gym membership discounts to help you get your exercise.

It’s important to note that even if you have Medicare Part D prescription drug coverage, it does not pay for weight loss medications, even if you have extreme obesity.

For more information about obesity-related coverage and Medicare, feel free to contact me. You can get information via email, or schedule a telephone call, by clicking one of the links below. To see a list of plans in your area you may qualify for, click the “Compare plans” button on this page.

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