10 Health Risks of Being Overweight or Obese

Two words that have been in the news more and more frequently over the past decade are overweight and obesity. In fact, obesity is now considered an epidemic in the United States.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Backention (CDC), between 2015 and 2016, more than 39.8% or approximately 93.3 million U.S. adults are obese.Overweight and obesity is now not only a problem in the U.S. but according to the World Health Organization (WHO), obesity has also reached epidemic levels globally.

Overweight and obesity are characterized by excess body weight for a person’s height or excess body fat. Clinically, overweight is defined as a body mass index (BMI) of 25 to 30. Obesity is defined as a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or more.

BMI is calculated by taking a person’s weight and height into account. There are 3 classifications of obesity, determined by the severity of BMI, and designated as class I, II, or III. BMI provides a good guide for overweight and obesity but may not represent to the same body fat percentage in different people

Causes of Obesity

Obesity is complex, and many factors contribute to this condition. The most simple of these causes is consuming more calories than you can burn through physical activities and exercise. Over time these extra calories add up, and contribute to the development of unhealthy body weight and fat.

“The most common cause of obesity is eating more than our body requires, and not exercising enough to burn off the calories we consume daily. This often starts in childhood, and then worsens as we age.

One of the most common ways people take in too many calories is by drinking many of their calories in the form of sodas, juices, sports drinks or sweet tea. Just one glass of one of these drinks can add an extra 100-200 calories a day,” says Dr. Crystal Bowe, Family Medicine Physician, Public Health Advocate & Best-Selling Author.

Of course, for many people, it’s never as simple as “Calories in and Calories out.” Poor nutrition, lack of sleep, inactive lifestyle, genetics, age, pregnancy and hormonal changes in the body are a few risk factors that contribute to overweight and obesity.

There are also times when weight gain is due to medical conditions like polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and hypothyroidism.

Signs and Symptoms of Obesity

The excess body weight and fat in overweight and obesity can result in shortness of breath, increased sweating, snoring, and inability to participate completely in physical activities. Obesity often leads to other serious health conditions, and each of which carries its own set of symptoms.

Backenting Obesity

Though it is quite difficult to control some risk factors that contribute to overweight and obesity, this risk can be reduced by adopting a healthy lifestyle that includes healthy eating and exercise.

Obesity is a serious condition that can have negative effects on many systems in the body and increase the risk of several health problems.

“Healthy habits must start young and truly preventing obesity for significant numbers of people requires a cultural shift in the way we view our diets and our lifestyle. That will take time. In the meantime, there is some scientific evidence that programs combining diet and physical activity intervention conducted in the community with a school component can be effective at preventing obesity.

More research and consistent methods are needed to understand the comparative effectiveness of childhood obesity prevention programs in the community setting.

However, the earlier we can intervene the better, because obese or overweight children or more likely to become obese adults,” says Adam Perlman, MD, MPH, FACP, an Integrative Health and Wellbeing expert at Duke University.

Consulting a Doctor for Obesity

Speaking with your doctor is the best way to begin your discussion about adopting a healthy lifestyle and factors that may be contributing to an unhealthy weight.

If there are other factors involved like quitting smoking, medical conditions, medications, or sleep apnea that are contributing to weight gain, your doctor can help develop a plan to investigate this.

In case you are unable to lose weight despite following healthy nutrition, having an active lifestyle, and being involved in physical activities, then the cause of obesity could be an underlying health condition, for which you should consult a doctor.

Problems You can Face if You are Overweight or Obese

Here are 10 health risks of being overweight or obese.

1. Type 2 Diabetes

In diabetes, a metabolic disorder, the body is either incapable of producing sufficient insulin to regulate blood glucose levels or the insulin produced does not work effectively.

It is well documented that the risk of Type 2 diabetes increases with obesity.

A 2011 study published in Diabetes Care again highlights the relationship between obesity and Type 2 diabetes and also emphasizes a focus on preventing obesity and controlling blood glucose levels in order to decrease the risks for developing Type 2 diabetes.

Being overweight or obese is not the only risk factor to developing Type 2 Diabetes but is documented as the main modifiable risk factor for developing Type 2 diabetes.

Further, this metabolic condition is the leading cause of early death, coronary heart disease, strokes, kidney disease and blindness.

Cutting the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes requires weight loss, balanced nutrition, getting adequate sleep and daily recommended exercise.

2. High Blood Pressure

According to CDC, about 1 in 3 U.S. adults, or about 70 million people, suffer from high blood pressure or hypertension.

The heart delivers blood to the rest of your body through the arteries to the rest of your body every time it beats. A blood pressure of less than 120/80 mm Hg is considered normal. Once the blood pressure is consistently 140/90 or higher then this is now considered as high blood pressure.

High blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease, and is known to increase with weight gain and age. Weight loss, though difficult, must be the first line of therapy for treating hypertension.

While obesity is associated with hypertension, one can also suffer from hypertension due to several other reasons, such as genetics, excessive drinking, high salt intake, lack of exercise, stress, and use of birth control pills.

No matter the cause of high blood pressure, it’s negative effects can be significant on the body. Follow the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet, avoid high dietary sodium, drink alcohol in moderation and make activity and exercise a part of your daily routine.

3. High Cholesterol

People who are overweight or obese are more likely to have high cholesterol, a condition in which the levels of low-density lipoproteins (LDL or ‘bad’ cholesterol) and triglycerides are too high and the level of high-density lipoproteins (HDL or ‘good’ cholesterol) is too low.

Abnormal levels of these blood fats are a risk factor for coronary heart disease.

A 2004 study published in the International Journal of obesity analyzed the relationship between total cholesterol, age and BMI among males and females in the WHO MONICA Project.

Researchers concluded that public health measures should be directed at the prevention of obesity in young adults since it increases the risk of excess cholesterol in the bloodstream.

Apart from obesity, smoking, excessive drinking, increasing age, genetics, diabetes, high blood pressure, and kidney or liver disease also play a major role in high cholesterol.

As per the studies, modest weight reduction in obese patients with Type 2 diabetes, hypertension or hyperlipidemia, appeared to improve the glycemic control, reduce blood pressure and cholesterol levels respectively. It was shown that modest weight loss helped a large proportion of obese individuals with Type 2 diabetes, hypertension and hyperlipidemia experience positive health benefits.

More specifically, weight loss achieved through exercise is highly effective at raising HDL (good cholesterol) levels compared to dieting. This good cholesterol, is protective to the cardiovascular system.

4. Heart Disease and Stroke

Obesity causes a number of cardiovascular problems. With an increase in BMI, there is also an increased risk for heart disease. Obesity leads to the buildup of plaque (a waxy substance) inside the coronary arteries that supply oxygen-rich blood to your heart. Plaque obstructs blood flow to the heart.

Moreover, obesity may cause or contribute to alterations in cardiac structure and function. The risk of sudden cardiac death as well as a stroke is also increased with obesity.

Further, chronic inflammation caused by obesity also leads to Metabolic Syndrome, which increases the risk of high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Both of these conditions increase the risk of heart disease or strokes.

The study also stresses taking necessary steps to stop the obesity epidemic for reducing the burden of cardiovascular diseases in people.

The adverse effects of obesity on cardiovascular disease risk factors and its role in the pathogenesis of various cardiovascular diseases is well documented.

If you are overweight, try to lose some pounds, especially around your waist, to decrease the risk of heart attacks and strokes.

5. Cancer

Cancer occurs when certain cells in the body start growing abnormally or out of control.

While there are several risk factors for developing cancer, being overweight is one of them. Obesity increases the risk of developing certain cancers, such as breast, colon, rectum, uterus, gallbladder and kidney cancer.

In fact, death due to cancer in obese people is also high.

A 2003 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine reports that higher BMI in both men and women was significantly associated with higher rates of death due to cancer of the esophagus, stomach, colon, rectum, liver, gallbladder, pancreas, breast, uterus, cervix and kidney.

Later, a 2013 study published in the Journal of obesity also shed light on the connection between obesity and cancer, irrespective of gender and site specification.

Maintaining a healthy weight through healthy eating and physical activity plays a key role in reducing the rise in cancer risk.

6. Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is a common sleep disorder in which there are brief pauses in breathing or shallow breaths during sleep. The condition causes restless sleep throughout the night, heavy snoring and leads to sleepiness during the day. It also causes heavy snoring.

Obesity is one of the leading risk factors for sleep apnea. An overweight person may have more fat stored around their neck, making the airway smaller and breathing difficult.

Studies show that obesity is a potent risk factor for the development and progression of sleep apnea and is due to the distribution of fat between the central and peripheral compartments.

When patients with sleep apnea lose weight, improvements in upper airway function and disease severity are seen.

A 2011 study published in South Dakota Medicine suggests that even modest weight loss improves obstructive sleep apnea as well as positively affects both metabolic and cardiovascular risk profiles.

7. Fatty Liver Disease

Fatty liver disease (both alcoholic as well as nonalcoholic) is common with obesity. In this condition, fat builds up in the liver and causes inflammation or scarring. This can ultimately lead to severe liver damage, cirrhosis (scar tissue) or even liver failure.

Liver disease of metabolic origin, associated with obesity, is a common liver disease in Western countries.

Adopting a healthier lifestyle to reduce the risk of obesity-associated liver disease is paramount.

A 2016 study published in the Journal of Lipid Research reports that it is likely that it is the saturated fat, not unsaturated fat, that raises sphingosine-1-phosphate (S1P) levels in obese people, and S1P unleashes the inflammation that characterizes nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.

People suffering from fatty liver disease are advised to lose weight, eat a healthy diet, increase physical activity and avoid drinking alcohol.

Always opt for a gradual and sustained weight loss target, as rapid weight loss can be damaging to the liver.

8. Gallbladder Disease

Gallbladder disease and gallstones are more common in overweight populations. Excess cholesterol is one prominent reason behind gallstones, pebble-like materials that develop within the gallbladder.

Studies have shown that people with an abnormally high BMI are at a higher risk of suffering from gallstone disease. In fact, abdominal fat increases the risk of gallstone disease more.

A 2004 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition shed light on the association between abdominal adiposity and the incidence of symptomatic gallstone disease in men, independently of BMI.

It has been found that obese children, especially females, were more likely to have gallstones.

Later, a 2013 published in Hepatology analyzed 77,679 participants from the general public in Denmark and showed that overweight women were at greater risk for developing gallstones than men.

Researchers also found that gallstone disease is more likely to affect females who were less physically active and the risk increases by 7% for every 1 kg/M2 increase in BMI.

By maintaining a healthy weight, you can prevent gallstones and other gallbladder problems. When it comes to weight loss, avoid rapid weight loss and focus on losing 1 to 2 pounds per week.

9. Reproductive Problems

Obesity can cause menstrual issues and infertility in women, and erectile dysfunction, low sperm count and other sexual health issues in men.

A 2015 study states that overweight women have a higher incidence of menstrual dysfunction and anovulation.

Overweight and obese women are at a high risk for reproductive health problems. The risk of subfecundity and infertility, conception rates, miscarriage rates, and pregnancy complications are higher in these women. They have poor reproductive outcomes in natural as well as assisted conception.

The 2010 study published in the Journal of Human Reproductive Sciences highlights the impact of female obesity on the outcome of fertility treatment.

Gradual and sustained weight loss normalizes menstrual cycles and increases the chance of spontaneous ovulation and conception in overweight and obese women.

Obesity even affects fertility in men. A 2012 study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine reports that men who are overweight or obese are at a greater risk for infertility.

As compared with men of normal weight, obese men are more likely to have a low sperm count or not have any viable sperms.

Pregnant women who are obese are at an increased risk for developing gestational diabetes, preeclampsia and the need for a C-section during delivery.

In addition, babies born to overweight or obese mothers are at an increased risk of being born too early, being stillborn or having neural tube defects.

10. Osteoarthritis

Obesity is one of the contributing factors to the development of osteoarthritis, a common joint problem of the knees, hips and lower back.

Extra body weight puts more pressure on the joints and even wears away the cartilage, the tissue that normally protects the joints.

A 2001 study published in the International Journal of obesity reports the connection between obesity and knee osteoarthritis and suggests reducing the risk by controlling obesity.

A 2013 study published in the Indian Journal of Medical Research also made it clear that obesity contributes to the incidence and progression of osteoarthritis, with the strongest relationship being at the knee.

A 2002 study by the British Society for Rheumatology confirms the influence of obesity on the development of hip osteoarthritis, though the influence is moderate.

A 2006 study published in the Annals of Rheumatic Diseases shed light on how obesity leads to osteoarthritis, the dysregulation of lipid homeostasis, being one mechanism.

If you are obese and suffering from osteoarthritis, losing weight may help improve your symptoms. Weight loss will decrease stress on the knees, hips and lower back as well as lessen inflammation in your body. Exercise daily to lose weight, reduce pain and increase the flexibility of your joints.


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Cynthia Cross, MSN, CCRN, APRN

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