Several treatment options can help people with obesity achieve and maintain a suitable weight. These commonly include dietary and lifestyle changes, but medications and surgery are also options.

Obesity increases a person’s risk of many severe diseases and health complications. These include high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and heart failure. Doctors classify obesity as having a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or more.

Treatment for obesity is often multi-factorial and involves diet and lifestyle changes, activity, and exercise programs. There is no singular treatment course that will work in all cases, and consistent positive change is key to progress.

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One reason why excess weight and fat accumulate is when a person consumes more calories than they use. Over time, this can lead to weight gain.

What to eat and what to avoid

Reducing the intake of processed, refined, and ready-made food that is high in sugar and fat while increasing the consumption of whole grains and other high fiber foods — such as fresh fruits and vegetables — can help a person lose weight.

Diet patterns that prioritize whole grains and healthy fats, such as the Mediterranean diet are well-known to support healthy weight loss.

Fiber and whole grains can also help to reduce the risk of a number of conditions related to metabolic syndrome.

Metabolic syndrome is a condition that involves a number of health problems, including type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and cardiovascular problems. It is more common in people with obesity.

Consistency is key

The most important aspect of a healthy diet is for a person to be able to follow it consistently. Extremely low calorie and restrictive diets may help people lose weight in the short term but long-term adherence is low.

Severe restriction can lead to nutritional deficiencies and counter-productive weight gain upon ending the diet.

A doctor or dietitian can help to suggest a strategy and possibly a suitable weight-loss program.

Learn more about obesity and diet here.

In conjunction with dietary changes, increasing activity levels can help people to reach and maintain healthy weight, increase mobility, and improve mood.

Good ways to start getting active include:

  • walking briskly
  • swimming
  • using the stairs instead of the elevator
  • getting off the bus or train one stop earlier and walking the rest of the way

Experts recommend people get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise and two sessions of muscle-strengthening activity per week to maintain weight. To lose weight, people should aim for 300 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise or more per week.

People who are not used to exercising or who find it difficult to be active due to health or mobility problems should speak to a health professional about how to exercise and how to get started.

Discover the benefits of exercise for weight loss and exercises to get started with here.

A doctor may sometimes prescribe medications such as:

  • orlistat (Xenical)
  • phentermine-topiramate (Qsymia)
  • naltrexone-bupropion (Contrave)
  • liraglutide (Saxenda)
  • semaglutide (Wegovy)
  • setmelanotide (IMCIVREE)

However, they usually only do this if dietary changes and exercise have not resulted in weight loss or the person’s weight poses a significant risk to their health.

People should use medication alongside lifestyle changes, not in place of them.

Side effects include gastrointestinal symptoms, such as fatty stool and increased or decreased defecation. Some people have reported unwanted effects on the respiratory system, muscles and joints, headaches, and others.

Learn more about medications for weight loss here.

Weight loss surgery involves removing or changing a part of a person’s stomach or small intestine so that they do not consume as much food or absorb as many calories as before.

This can help an individual to lose weight and also reduce the risk of high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and other aspects of metabolic syndrome that can occur with obesity.

Surgery can either make the stomach smaller or it can bypass part of the digestive system.

Gastric sleeve or gastric band

The surgeon uses a gastric sleeve or a gastric band to make the stomach smaller.

Gastric bypass

The procedure enables food to bypass parts of the digestive system, specifically the first part of the mid-section of the small intestine. It may also reduce the size of the stomach.

This is generally more effective than restrictive procedures, but there is a higher risk of vitamin and mineral deficiencies, as the body can no longer absorb as many nutrients.

Learn more about the different types of weight-loss surgery here.

Small trials show that hormone treatments may assist in weight loss among people with obesity and type 2 diabetes. Harnessing these hormones could lead to novel, non-surgical options.

However, research in the field is lacking, and further large-scale studies are necessary to fully assess the impact of hormonal treatments for obesity.

Obesity increases the risk of a number of health problems.

Some of these — such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and high blood pressure — come under the umbrella of metabolic syndrome, a collection of features that often occur together, frequently with excess weight and obesity.

Health risks that increase with obesity include:

  • Osteoarthritis: Additional joint strain can lead to bone and cartilage degeneration.
  • Coronary heart disease: Heart disease becomes more likely when a person carries extra weight.
  • High blood pressure: Excess fat tissue in the body can affect the kidneys and rais insulin levels. Both can lead to high blood pressure, or hypertension.
  • Respiratory problems: These can occur if the extra weight puts pressure on the lungs, reducing the space available for breathing.
  • Cancers: Obesity increases a person’s risk of developing several cancer types, including colorectal cancer.
  • Sleep apnea: Obesity can cause, or worsen sleep apnea, while weight reduction often improves symptoms.
  • Stroke: Obesity often develops alongside a buildup of cholesterol. This increases the risk of blockages in the blood vessels and can lead to heart disease and stroke.
  • Type 2 diabetes: Type 2 diabetes is common in people that are overweight or have obesity. A diet high in refined sugars and processed foods can also increase this risk.

Help is available for people who are concerned that they have too much weight. A change in diet and an increase in exercise can help in many cases.

If these do not work, a doctor may be able to recommend another solution.