Gone are the times when obesity was considered just a cosmetic issue. It is now recognized as a chronic progressive disease that results from poor lifestyle and some genetic factors, according to the World Health Organization and various medical and scientific societies.
Obesity not only has an economic impact, but it also contributes negatively to individual and societal health. It affects physical and psychological well-being. And as it is progressive in nature, obesity requires a long-term effort to bring back the body in its physically healthy state.
Read on find out how obesity affects your body and what are some research-proven ways to manage it.
Health Effects of Obesity
There are two main types of diabetes.
- Type 1 diabetes (Insulin-dependent diabetes)
- Type 2 diabetes (Noninsulin-dependent diabetes)
The risk for insulin-dependent diabetes is more in people who have a family history of type 1 diabetes. While there is an environmental factor in type 1 diabetes, genetics seems to play a strong role.
Type 2 diabetes, one the other hand is strongly linked to lifestyle factors. Obesity increases the risk of type 2 diabetes ten-folds, and type 2 diabetes can double the risk of death.
Diabetes can lead to another set of diseases, including:
- Hard-to-heal infections
- Kidney disease
- Heart disease
- Circulatory defects
- Nerve defects
2. Heart Disease
Heart diseases are the leading cause of death worldwide. Ischemic heart disease accounted for 15.2 million deaths in 2016. In fact, heart disease has topped the list of leading causes of deaths every year in the past 15 years.
Obesity plays a major role in the development of heart diseases, according to the American Heart Association. The results of cohort studies have confirmed that obesity increases the risk of heart diseases. Individuals with a high BMI are more prone to develop coronary heart diseases, and therefore, the risk of heart attacks is more in these individuals. It also increases the risk of heart failure.
Irregular heartbeats, known as arrhythmias, are a risk factor for cardiac arrest. Arrhythmias have been observed in more frequency in obese individuals.
3. Respiratory Disorders
Obesity reduces the lung capacity, which is the maximum volume of air human lungs can hold. People who are overweight are more likely to develop respiratory infections and asthma. The risk of asthma triples in the presence of obesity.
Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA), a condition in breathing repeatedly stops and starts during sleep, has also been found to be caused by obesity, along with other causes. OSA is a result of excessive fat in the neck, throat, and tongue. The high fatness in these regions blocks the airway during sleep. This blockage causes apnea (temporary cessation of breathing).
More than half the obese population has OSA. In the case of the severely obese population, the percent of affected people increases to 90.
Obstructive Sleep Apnea is a risk factor for high blood pressure, heart failure, and pulmonary hypertension. It can also cause cardiac arrest and stroke. The OSA also interferes with normal sleep patterns and the affected person would not gain enough sleep. This results in drowsiness and fatigue.
Cancer affects more than half a million lives per year in the United States alone. Obesity is believed to cause up to 90,000 cancer deaths per year. As body mass index (BMI) increases, so do your risk of cancer and death from cancer. These cancers include:
- Endometrial cancer
- Cervical cancer
- Ovarian cancer
- Postmenopausal breast cancer
- Colorectal cancer
- Esophageal cancer
- Pancreatic cancer
- Gallbladder cancer
- Liver cancer
- Kidney cancer
- Thyroid cancer
- Prostate cancer
- Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
- Multiple myelomas
For people with severe obesity, the death rate increases for all types of cancer. The death rate is 52 percent higher for men and 62 percent higher for women.
Obesity is a major risk factor for high blood pressure(also known as “hypertension”)(3). About 3 out of 4 hypertension cases are related to obesity(4). Hypertension increases the risk of other diseases. These include coronary heart disease (CHD), congestive heart failure (CHF), stroke, and kidney disease.
6. Cerebrovascular Disease and Stroke
Obesity puts a strain on your whole circulatory system. This strain increases your risk of stroke. Obesity can lead to other stroke risk factors. Stroke risk factors include heart disease, metabolic syndrome, hypertension, lipid abnormalities, type 2 diabetes and obstructive sleep apnea(10).
7. Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease
Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) causes stomach acid or intestinal secretions to leak into your esophagus. Common GERD symptoms include heartburn, “indigestion”, throwing up food, coughing (especially at night), hoarseness, and belching. Between 10 percent and 20 percent of the general population experience GERD symptoms regularly.
Obesity has been associated with higher risk of GERD, erosive esophagitis and rarely, esophageal cancer (adenocarcinoma)(11).
8. Bone/Joint Damage and Accidents
Obesity, in particular, severe obesity, contributes to a number of bone and joint issues. These issues can increase the risk of accidents and personal injury. Bone and joint issues can include:
- Joint diseases (osteoarthritis, gout)
- Disc herniation
- Spinal disorders
- Back pain
- Pseudotumor cerebri, a condition associated with disorientation, headache, and visual impairment.
- Alzheimer’s Disease: Studies find that obesity during middle-age may contribute to conditions that increase the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease later in life(12).
- Kidney Disease: Hypertension, Type 2 diabetes, and congestive heart failure are major contributors to kidney disease and kidney failure. All of these conditions are caused or made worse by obesity.
- Suicide: Studies have shown a correlation between severe obesity and major depressive disorder (12). Physical and social discrimination issues surrounding obesity may contribute to this depression. Studies are mixed on whether obesity is associated with higher suicide rates. However, most studies seem to suggest lower rates of suicide in people with obesity.
- Septicemia: Septicemia is a serious infection that can quickly lead to septic shock and death. Studies have shown that people affected by obesity, particularly severe obesity, are at higher risk of septicemia.
- Liver Disease: Obesity is the major cause of fatty liver and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Most people with severe obesity have non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Fatty liver disease can cause scarring of the liver, resulting in worsened liver function, and this can lead to cirrhosis and liver failure.
- Other conditions that could become life-threatening: maternal gestational diabetes and preeclampsia during pregnancy, increased incidence of miscarriages and stillborns, gallbladder disease, pancreatitis, and more.
- Other conditions resulting in diminished quality of life: stress urinary incontinence (leakage), polycystic ovarian syndrome, infertility, and skinfold rashes.
Obesity can have a dramatic impact on your body. The conditions related to obesity can be detrimental to your health. However, many of these complications can be avoided or cured through weight loss.
Do I really weigh too much?
The perception of being over-weight may vary across societies. The difference in perception is also found across genders. So what’s the way to tell if a person is actually overweight?
There are two numbers you need to know.
1. Basal Metabolic Weight (BMI)
2. Waist size in inches
Basal Metabolic Weight is the measure of body fatness. It is calculated as the weight of a person in kilograms divided by the square of his height in meters. A high score is an indication of high body fatness.
Following is the scoring criteria:
- <18.5 = Underweight
- 18.5–24.9 = Normal weight
- 25–29.9 = Overweight
- BMI of 30 or greater = Obesity
So a BMI score between 25–29.9 means a person is overweight, and if weight gain is not controlled at this point, the status will change into obesity.
Waite size is another important indicator. Having too much belly fat increase the risk of having fat in other body parts, as well. Obesity-related diseases are more likely to occur in females with more than 35 inches of waist size. Males who have a waist size of more than 40 inches are more prone to obesity-related diseases.
How to lower the risk of having health problems related to overweight and obesity?
If you are considered to be overweight, losing as little as 5 percent of your body weight may lower your risk for several diseases, including heart disease and type 2 diabetes. If you weigh 200 pounds, this means losing 10 pounds. Slow and steady weight loss of 1/2 to 2 pounds per week and not more than 3 pounds per week is the safest way to lose weight.
Federal guidelines on physical activity recommend that you get at least 150 minutes a week of moderate aerobic activity (like biking or brisk walking). To lose weight, or to maintain weight loss, you may need to be active for more than 300 minutes per week… You also need to do activities to strengthen muscles (like push-ups or sit-ups) at least twice a week.
- Make half of your plate fruits and vegetables.
- Replace unrefined grains (white bread, pasta, white rice) with whole-grain options (whole wheat bread, brown rice, oatmeal).
- Enjoy lean sources of protein, such as lean meats, seafood, beans and peas, soy, nuts, and seeds.
For some people who have obesity and related health problems, bariatric (weight-loss) surgery may be an option. Bariatric surgery has been found to be effective in promoting weight loss and reducing the risk for many health problems.
How to Prevent Obesity
A primary reason that prevention of obesity is so vital in children is that the likelihood of obese becoming obese adults is thought to increase from about 20 percent at four years of age to 80 percent by adolescence.
Preventing Obesity in Children and Adolescents
Young people generally become overweight or obese because they don’t get enough physical activity in combination with poor eating habits. Genetics and lifestyle also contribute to a child’s weight status.
There are a number of steps you can take to help prevent overweight and obesity during childhood and adolescence. (They’ll help you, too!) They include:
- Gradually work to change family eating habits and activity levels rather than focusing on weight. Change the habits and the weight will take care of itself.
- Be a role model. Parents who eat healthy foods and are physical activity set an example that increases the likelihood their children will do the same.
- Encourage physical activity. Children should have an hour of moderate physical activity most days of the week. More than an hour of activity may promote weight loss and subsequent maintenance.
- Reduce time in front of the TV and computer to less than two hours a day.
- Encourage children to eat only when hungry, and to eat slowly.
- Avoid using food as a reward or withholding food as a punishment.
- Keep the refrigerator stocked with fat-free or low-fat milk and fresh fruit and vegetables instead of soft drinks and snacks high in sugar and fat.
- Serve at least five servings of fruits and vegetables daily.
- Encourage children to drink water rather than beverages with added sugar, such as soft drinks, sports drinks, and fruit juice drinks.
Preventing Obesity in Adults
Many of the strategies that produce successful weight loss and maintenance will help prevent obesity. Improving your eating habits and increasing physical activity play a vital role in preventing obesity. Things you can do include:
Eat five to six servings of fruits and vegetables daily.
- A vegetable serving is one cup of raw vegetables or one-half cup of cooked vegetables or vegetable juice. A fruit serving is one piece of small to medium fresh fruit, one-half cup of canned or fresh fruit or fruit juice, or one-fourth cup of dried fruit.
Choose whole grain foods such as brown rice and whole wheat bread.
- Avoid highly processed foods made with refined white sugar, flour, and saturated fat.
Weigh and measure food to gain an understanding of portion sizes.
- For example, a three-ounce serving of meat is the size of a deck of cards. Avoid supersized menu items particularly at fast-food restaurants. You can achieve a lot just with proper choices in serving sizes.
Balance the food “checkbook.”
- Eating more calories than you burn for energy will lead to weight gain.
Avoid high-energy-density foods
- Avoid foods that are high in “energy density” or that have a lot of calories in a small amount of food. For example, a large cheeseburger and a large order of fries may have almost 1,000 calories and 30 or more grams of fat. By ordering a grilled chicken sandwich or a plain hamburger and a small salad with low-fat dressing, you can avoid hundreds of calories and eliminate much of the fat intake. For dessert, have fruit or a piece of angel food cake rather than the “death by chocolate” special or three pieces of home-made pie.
Crack a sweat
- Accumulate at least 30 minutes or more of exercise on most, or preferably, all days of the week. Examples include walking a 15-minute mile, or weeding and hoeing the garden.
- Make opportunities during the day for even just 10 or 15 minutes of some calorie-burning activity, such as walking around the block or up and down a few flights of stairs at work. Again, every little bit helps.