Obese man measuring his waist

Understanding Obesity and Its Associated Health Risks

We all know that maintaining a healthy weight is a good thing. Many of us go on a diet each year to shed a few pounds, especially around the New Year. For increasing numbers of people around the globe, however, obesity is a huge challenge.

This is not simply a cosmetic issue. There are many serious health risks associated with being extremely overweight.

Here we look at what obesity is, how it impacts our health and how reducing our weight by maintaining a healthy diet, along with other measures such as exercise, can reduce our risk of developing life-changing and chronic diseases in the future.

 

What is Obesity?

Obesity is a condition where someone is seriously overweight and carrying a lot of fat around the body, especially the midriff. It can be typically measured using the Body Mass Index or BMI.

A healthy weight means you have a BMI of between 18.5 and 24.9. Someone who is obese will have a BMI of over 30.

Clinically, obesity is more often measured by looking at excess weight being carried around the waist and markers such as blood sugar and cholesterol levels. That’s mainly because people with a lot of muscle, who are relatively healthy, can score high on the BMI too.

A male waist that is greater than 94cm and a female waist over 80cm can put an individual at risk of obesity-related illnesses.

According to the CDC, in the USA alone, nearly 40% of people over the age of 20 are currently considered obese. The incidence in children is also on the rise with more than 20% of 12 to 19-year-olds now thought to have a serious problem with their weight.

Health Risks of Obesity and Being Overweight

Obesity is a complex condition and is caused by a variety of factors, including lack of exercise, poor food choices and eating too much. Certain medications and genetics can also influence weight gain.

An individual who is overweight by more than 40% is twice as likely to die prematurely compared to someone who has a healthy weight.

Type 2 Diabetes

Diabetes is a serious health condition where individuals have too high a level of blood sugar. They develop insulin resistance, a hormone that plays a vital role in maintaining control of sugar levels within the body. Type 2 diabetes can lead to many other problems such as stroke, heart disease and blindness.

It may be that individuals who are overweight see changes within their cells that create insulin resistance which then leads to the disease developing over time.

High Blood Pressure

High blood pressure is a common problem in individuals who are obese. The normal BP range is below 120 over 80. An individual is considered to have high blood pressure if the range rises above 140 over 90.

This is another condition that can lead to more serious illnesses such as heart disease and kidney disease.

Heart Disease

This can cover a range of conditions including, most commonly, the narrowing and hardening of the arteries. In its severest form, it can cause a heart attack and sudden cardiac death.

People who are obese generally have other conditions such as high blood pressure and high levels of cholesterol and blood sugar that contribute to developing heart disease.

Stroke

Obesity is also associated with a higher risk of stroke. This is a condition that occurs when the blood flow to the brain is suddenly interrupted. The leading cause of stroke is high blood pressure which can lead to clots forming, blocking the arteries.

A recent analysis of a range of studies found that being simply overweight increased an individual’s risk of suffering a stroke by some 22%. If a person is considered obese, this rises to 64%.

Sleep Apnea

A disorder like sleep apnea, where breathing pauses during sleep, is often caused by conditions such as obesity where excess fat is stored around the neck, affecting the size of the airway.

Metabolic Syndrome

This is a condition that combines diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity and can put an individual at a much higher risk of developing coronary heart disease or having a stroke.

Fatty Liver Diseases

Obesity normally means large fatty deposits around the liver. This organ is vital to the healthy function of the human body and fat development can lead to cirrhosis and even liver failure.

Osteoarthritis

Because people are carrying a lot of excess weight, obesity can impact osteoarthritis and cause pain and damage to joints.

Cancer

Obesity has also been associated with an increased risk of some cancers including breast, kidney and colon cancer. Studies, however, have not shown whether losing weight can cut the risk of developing these diseases.

Kidney Disease

Because obesity is a leading cause of type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure, it is also linked to the development of kidney disease. Losing weight can help slow the progression.

Pregnancy Problems

Being obese and pregnant has some risks for both the mother and baby. There may be an increased chance of developing gestational diabetes, preeclampsia and an individual is more likely to need a c-section.

How to Lower the Risk of Obesity

There are some simple things an individual can do to reduce their risk for these health problems. The first is to lose weight, eat healthy foods and maintain a BMI within the normal range.

The other is to exercise regularly – it’s widely recommended that individuals should have at least 150 minutes of moderate or brisk exercise each week.