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The Health Risks of Overweight and Obesity

CEO Tinh Phung
Overweight and obesity pose a significant risk to our health. Carrying excess weight, especially around the waist, can lead to various health problems. However, maintaining a healthy weight can prevent, improve, or even eliminate these...

Overweight and obesity pose a significant risk to our health. Carrying excess weight, especially around the waist, can lead to various health problems. However, maintaining a healthy weight can prevent, improve, or even eliminate these issues.

Type 2 Diabetes

Type 2 diabetes occurs when blood glucose levels are consistently high. Almost 9 out of 10 people with type 2 diabetes are overweight or obese. High blood glucose over time can lead to heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, eye problems, nerve damage, and other health complications. If you are at risk for type 2 diabetes, losing just 5% to 7% of your starting weight can help prevent or delay its onset. For example, if you weigh 200 pounds, a goal of losing 10 to 14 pounds can significantly reduce your risk.

High Blood Pressure

High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is when the force of blood flow through your vessels exceeds the normal range. Being overweight or obese can increase blood pressure as your heart has to work harder to supply blood to all your cells. In addition, excess fat can harm the kidneys, which regulate blood pressure. High blood pressure strains the heart, damages blood vessels, and raises the risks of heart attack, stroke, kidney disease, and even death. Losing weight to achieve a healthy body mass index range can help lower high blood pressure and prevent related health problems.

Heart Disease

Heart disease is an umbrella term for conditions such as heart attacks, heart failure, angina, and abnormal heart rhythms. Overweight and obesity increase the risk of developing heart disease by contributing to high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, and high blood glucose. Additionally, excess weight makes your heart work harder to pump blood throughout your body. Losing weight can help lower the risk factors associated with heart disease.

Stroke

Strokes occur when a blood vessel in the brain or neck becomes blocked or bursts, cutting off blood flow to the brain. High blood pressure, which is often caused by overweight and obesity, is the leading cause of strokes. By losing weight, you can lower your blood pressure and reduce the risk of stroke, as well as other related conditions such as high blood glucose and high blood cholesterol.

Metabolic Syndrome

Metabolic syndrome refers to a group of conditions that increase the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and stroke. To be diagnosed with metabolic syndrome, you must have at least three of the following: a large waist size, high levels of triglycerides, high blood pressure, high fasting blood glucose, or low levels of HDL cholesterol. Metabolic syndrome is closely linked to overweight and obesity, as well as a lack of physical activity. Adopting a healthy lifestyle and managing your weight can help prevent and reduce metabolic syndrome.

Fatty Liver Diseases

Fatty liver diseases occur when fat accumulates in the liver, potentially leading to severe liver damage, cirrhosis, or liver failure. These diseases, such as nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) and nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), primarily affect individuals who are overweight or obese. Factors such as insulin resistance, unhealthy levels of fat in the blood, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, and certain genes can also contribute to the development of NAFLD and NASH. Losing just 3% to 5% of your body weight if you are overweight or obese can reduce fat in the liver.

Some Cancers

Overweight and obesity are associated with an increased risk of developing certain types of cancer. Men with excess weight are at a higher risk of colon, rectal, and prostate cancers, while women are more likely to develop breast, uterine lining, and gallbladder cancers. Maintaining a healthy weight throughout adulthood can reduce the risk of various cancers, including colon, kidney, breast, and ovarian cancers.

Illustration of a human torso, with labels showing the different types of cancer associated with overweight and obesity. These cancers include thyroid, breast (postmenopausal women), liver, gallbladder, upper stomach, pancreas, colon and rectum, ovary, endometrium (cancer in the tissue lining the uterus), kidney, multiple myeloma (cancer of blood cells), adenocarcinoma of the esophagus, and meningioma (cancer in the tissue covering the brain and spinal cord). Overweight and obesity increase the risk of developing many types of cancer. Adults who gain less weight as they age have a lower risk of developing various cancers, including colon, kidney, breast, and ovarian cancers.

Breathing Problems

Excess weight can affect lung function and increase the risk of breathing problems. Two common issues associated with overweight and obesity are sleep apnea and asthma.

Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is a condition in which your upper airway becomes blocked during sleep, leading to irregular breathing or pauses in breathing. Untreated sleep apnea can contribute to heart disease and diabetes. Obesity is a common cause of sleep apnea in adults. Excess fat around the neck can narrow the airway, making breathing difficult and causing snoring. Losing weight can help reduce or eliminate sleep apnea.

Asthma

Asthma is a chronic condition that affects the airways in your lungs, causing inflammation and narrowing of the airways. Obesity increases the risk of developing asthma, exacerbates symptoms, and makes it more challenging to manage the condition. Weight loss can make it easier to manage asthma symptoms, with metabolic and bariatric surgery potentially improving asthma symptoms for individuals with severe obesity.

Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis is a long-lasting condition characterized by joint pain, swelling, stiffness, and reduced mobility. Being overweight or obese is a significant risk factor for osteoarthritis in the knees, hips, and ankles. Excess body fat increases levels of inflammatory substances in the blood, which can contribute to joint inflammation. Losing weight reduces stress on the joints and lowers inflammation, leading to improved symptoms. Exercise is also recommended as an effective treatment for osteoarthritis, improving mood, reducing pain, and increasing flexibility.

Gout

Gout is a type of arthritis that causes pain and swelling in the joints. It occurs when uric acid crystals accumulate in the joints. Risk factors for gout include obesity, being male, having high blood pressure, and consuming foods high in purines, such as red meat, liver, and anchovies. While medication is the primary treatment for gout, weight loss can also help prevent and manage the condition.

Diseases of the Gallbladder and Pancreas

Overweight and obesity increase the risk of developing gallbladder diseases, including gallstones and cholecystitis. Obesity can lead to higher levels of cholesterol in the bile, which can cause the formation of gallstones. It can also result in a larger gallbladder that does not function properly. Having excess fat around the waist is associated with an increased risk of developing gallstones. However, losing weight too quickly can also raise the risk. If you have obesity, it is essential to consult with your healthcare professional on how to safely lose weight.

Obesity can also impact the pancreas, a crucial organ responsible for insulin and enzyme production to aid digestion. Obesity raises the risk of pancreatitis, inflammation of the pancreas, due to high levels of fat in the blood. Following a low-fat, healthy eating plan can reduce the chances of developing pancreatitis.

Kidney Disease

Kidney disease occurs when the kidneys are damaged and cannot filter the blood properly. Obesity increases the risk of developing diabetes and high blood pressure, which are the leading causes of chronic kidney disease (CKD). Even in the absence of diabetes or high blood pressure, obesity itself raises the risk of developing CKD and accelerates its progression. Losing weight can help prevent or delay CKD. For those in the early stages of CKD, maintaining a healthy diet, staying active, and losing excess weight can slow the progression of the disease and support kidney health.

Pregnancy Problems

Pregnant woman walking with a jacket draped over her shoulder. Overweight and obesity increase the risk of developing health problems during pregnancy that can affect both the mother and baby. Pregnant individuals who are overweight or obese are at a higher risk of developing gestational diabetes, preeclampsia (high blood pressure during pregnancy), experiencing complications from surgery and anesthesia, and taking longer to recover after a cesarean delivery. Obesity during pregnancy can also increase health risks for the baby, such as being born larger than expected, developing chronic diseases in adulthood, and experiencing difficulty in conceiving. It is crucial to discuss weight management with a healthcare professional before, during, and after pregnancy.

Fertility Problems

Obesity is associated with an increased risk of infertility. In women, it can lead to difficulties in getting pregnant or carrying a pregnancy to term. Obesity is linked to lower sperm count and quality in men. Women with obesity who lose just 5% of their body weight can improve their chances of regular menstrual periods, ovulation, and successful pregnancy. It is essential to address weight-related factors when seeking assistance with infertility treatments.

Sexual Function Problems

Obesity may contribute to sexual function problems. In men, overweight or obesity can increase the risk of erectile dysfunction (ED), the inability to achieve or maintain an erection for satisfactory sexual intercourse. Research on how obesity affects female sexual function is limited, but healthy eating, increased physical activity, and weight loss have been found to alleviate sexual function problems in individuals with obesity.

Mental Health Problems

In addition to physical health problems, obesity can have adverse effects on mental health. It increases the risk of long-term stress, body image issues, low self-esteem, depression, and eating disorders. People with overweight or obesity are often subjected to weight-related bias in various settings, which can significantly impact their quality of life. Losing excess weight has been shown to improve body image, self-esteem, and reduce symptoms of depression.

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