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January 7, 2010 – Vol. 4 • No. 5
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Questions & Answers

1.Will children of obese parents be obese as well?

Although there are some genetic and hormonal causes of childhood obesity, most excess weight is caused by kids eating too much and exercising too little. If a child comes from a family of overweight people, he or she may be genetically predisposed to put on excess weight, especially in an environment where high-calorie food is always available and physical activity is not encouraged.

2. Why does obesity increase the risk of cancer?

Obesity is associated with an increased risk of many cancers, including uterine, breast and colon cancer. It appears that excess body fat increases the amount of certain hormones as well as disrupts how the body processes insulin. For instance, it is known that fat produces estrogen, which may be a factor in estrogen-fuelled cancers, such as breast and uterine cancer. The American Institute for Cancer Research estimates that over 100,000 cancers in this country each year are linked to excess body fat.

3. Is it possible to be obese and healthy?

No. Obesity involves an excess of body fat which by definition is an unhealthy state. Just having the excess body fat increases a person’s risk of developing coronary heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, diabetes and certain cancers. In addition, quality of life is impacted by excess weight, causing joint pain, inability to climb stairs and even difficulty in sleeping.

4. Is obesity genetic?

Although there are some genetic and hormonal causes of obesity, experts have concluded that its chief causes are a sedentary lifestyle and overconsumption of high-calorie food.

5. Can a person who is trying to lose weight continue to eat desserts and sweets?

Yes but it will require a bit of extra work.. In order to lose weight it is necessary to burn more calories than you take in. So, if a person eats desserts in small quantities and exercises enough to burn the excess calories, he or she can still lose weight. It is important to keep in mind that you will have to burn 3,500 more calories than eaten in order to lose one pound. As an example, running or walking one mile burns 100 to 120 calories. So, if you eat a cookie (typically 250 calories) you may to walk or run almost 2.5 miles just to burn that cookie!

6. Is it possible to reduce the visceral (internal abdominal) fat that is considered dangerous to a person’s health?

Yes! Visceral fat can be reduced by following a healthy eating plan and getting regular exercise, which should include weight lifting or toning exercises to build muscle as well as aerobic exercises, such as walking. It requires more energy to maintain muscle than fat. So, the higher muscle mass a person has, the more calories he or she burns.

7. If a person loses weight, does that mean the number of fat cells decreases?

Normally during adulthood, the number of fat cells remains about the same, except in the case of obesity. When the existing fat cells are filled to capacity, new fat cells can continue to be created in order to provide additional storage – even in adults. If a person loses weight, the fat cells decrease in size but the number of fat cells does not change.

Lisa Michelle Owens, M.D.
Medical Director
Brigham Primary Physicians at
Faulkner Hospital


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