Over 60 percent of U.S. adult women are overweight, according to 2007 estimates from the National Center for Health Statistics of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Just over one-third of overweight adult women are obese.
You can become overweight or obese when you eat more calories (KAL-oh-rees) than you use. A calorie is a unit of energy in the food you eat. Your body needs this energy to function and to be active. But if you take in more energy than your body uses, you will gain weight.
Many factors can play a role in becoming overweight or obese. These factors include:
Overweight and obesity problems keep getting worse in the United States. Some cultural reasons for this include:
Being overweight or obese can increase your risk of:
But excess body weight isn't the only health risk. The places where you store your body fat also affect your health. Women with a "pear" shape tend to store fat in their hips and buttocks. Women with an "apple" shape store fat around their waists. If your waist is more than 35 inches, you may have a higher risk of weight-related health problems.
The best way to lose weight is to use more calories than you take in. You can do this by following a healthy eating plan and being more active. Before you start a weight-loss program, talk to your doctor.
Safe weight-loss programs that work well:
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Department of Agriculture (USDA) offer tips for healthy eating in Dietary Guidelines for All Americans.
The new 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans state that an active lifestyle can lower your risk of early death from a variety of causes. There is strong evidence that regular physical activity can also lower your risk of:
Regular activity can help prevent unhealthy weight gain and also help with weight loss, when combined with lower calorie intake. If you are overweight or obese, losing weight can lower your risk for many diseases. Being overweight or obese increases your risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, type 2 diabetes, breathing problems, osteoarthritis, gallbladder disease, sleep apnea (breathing problems while sleeping), and some cancers.
Regular physical activity can also improve your cardiorespiratory (heart, lungs, and blood vessels) and muscular fitness. For older adults, activity can improve mental function.
Physical activity may also help:
Health benefits are gained by doing the following each week:
This physical activity should be in addition to your routine activities of daily living, such as cleaning or spending a few minutes walking from the parking lot to your office.
If you want to lose a substantial (more than 5 percent of body weight) amount of weight, you need a high amount of physical activity unless you also lower calorie intake. This is also the case if you are trying to keep the weight off. Many people need to do more than 300 minutes of moderate-intensity activity a week to meet weight-control goals.
During moderate-intensity activities you should notice an increase in your heart rate, but you should still be able to talk comfortably. An example of a moderate-intensity activity is walking on a level surface at a brisk pace (about 3 to 4 miles per hour). Other examples include ballroom dancing, leisurely bicycling, moderate housework, and waiting tables.
If your heart rate increases a lot and you are breathing so hard that it is difficult to carry on a conversation, you are probably doing vigorous-intensity activity. Examples of vigorous-intensity activities include jogging, bicycling fast or uphill, singles tennis, and pushing a hand mower.
|If you normally...||Try this instead!|
|Park as close as possible to the store||Park farther away|
|Let the dog out back||Take the dog for a walk|
|Take the elevator||Take the stairs|
|Have lunch delivered||Walk to pick up lunch|
|Relax while the kids play||Get involved in their activity|
The Food and Drug Administration has approved two medicines for long-term treatment of obesity:
These medicines are for people who:
If you take these medicines, you will need to follow a healthy eating and physical activity plan at the same time.
Before taking these medicines, talk with your doctor about the benefits and the side effects.
Weight loss surgeries — also called bariatric (bair-ee-AT-rik) surgeries — can help treat obesity. You should only consider surgical treatment for weight loss if you:
Common types of weight loss surgeries are:
If you are thinking about weight-loss surgery, talk with your doctor about changes you will need to make after the surgery. You will need to:
You should also talk to your doctor about risks and side effects of weight loss surgery. Side effects may include:
Liposuction (LY-poh-suhk-shuhn) is not a treatment for obesity. In this procedure, a surgeon removes fat from under the skin. Liposuction can be used to reshape parts of your body. But this surgery does not promise lasting weight loss.
The things children learn when they are young are hard to change as they get older. This is true for their eating and physical activity habits. Many children have a poor diet and are not very active. They may eat foods high in calories and fat and not eat enough fruits and vegetables. They also may watch TV, play video games, or use the computer instead of being active.
Kids who are overweight have a greater chance of becoming obese adults. Overweight children may develop weight-related health problems like high blood pressure and diabetes at a young age. You can find out if your child is overweight or obese by using this Body Mass Index calculator for children and teens.
You can help your child build healthy eating and activity habits.
We know children do what they see — not always what they are told. Set a good example for your children. Your kids will learn to eat right and be active by watching you. Setting a good example can mean a lifetime of good habits for you and your kids.
For more information about overweight, obesity, and weight loss, call womenshealth.gov at 800-994-9662 (TDD: 888-220-5446) or contact the following organizations:
All material contained on these pages are free of copyright restrictions and may be copied, reproduced, or duplicated without permission of the Office on Women’s Health in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Citation of the source is appreciated.
Page last updated: June 12, 2017.
Content last reviewed: July 16, 2012.