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Battling the Bulge; Unveiling the Devastating Health Toll of Obesity

The Correlation Between Obesity and Negative Health Consequences

Obesity is a long-standing epidemic that has serious health consequences. Outside of carrying excess weight, being overweight or obese predisposes individuals to things like diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, depression, and more. This article will outline some of the most common risks associated with obesity and the mechanisms and data underlying them.

Diabetes

Out of all the potential health risks associated with obesity, type 2 diabetes has one of the highest correlations with body weight. Type 2 diabetes occurs when your body does not respond correctly to insulin, causing insulin resistance. This results blood sugar levels that are too high, leading to several potential long-term complications such as heart disease, nerve damage, kidney damage, and issues associated with your vision, feet, hearing, and more.

Around eight out of every 10 individuals with type 2 diabetes are considered either overweight or obese, representing a strong correlation between weight and diabetes (1). One study even found that a body mass index (BMI) of greater than 35 in women was associated with a diabetes risk that was 93 times higher than that of women with a BMI less than 22. In men, another study found that a BMI greater than 30 had a seven-fold increased risk of diabetes (2)

The reasoning behind this association involves hormones and inflammation. Abdominal fat cells release hormones that activate inflammatory processes, making the body resistant to insulin and altering metabolism. Thankfully, multiple studies indicate that weight loss in high-risk individuals can prevent or delay diabetes onset (2).

High blood pressure

High blood pressure, or hypertension, is another common condition associated with obesity. In fact, around 65 to 78 percent of individuals with primary hypertension are obese. The mechanisms underlying this phenomenon involve overactivation of the nervous system, insulin resistance, kidney issues, and more (3). High blood pressure can lead to further issues like heart attack, stroke, kidney disease, and death (1).

Cardiovascular disease

Obesity can also cause several adverse events involving the cardiovascular system, having widespread effects on cholesterol, inflammation, blood sugar, triglycerides, and blood pressure. Of note, obesity increases one’s risk for coronary artery disease, stroke, and death (2).

Despite these risks, there are ways to lower your risk of heart issues. Getting rid of five to 10 percent of your body weight will minimize your chances of heart disease as well as normalize your cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood flow.

Cancer

Being overweight or obese is also linked to the development of cancer. In particular, obesity is linked to 13 types of cancer, including those related to the breast, colon, pancreas, liver, kidney, liver, thyroid, and more. Being overweight and obese induces long-term inflammation and increases levels of certain hormones such as insulin, sex hormones, and insulin-like growth factor. Additionally, excess fat can change your metabolism, disrupt your immune system, and increase inflammation, all contributing to cancer. The more weight you put on, the higher your risk gets (4,5).

One study evaluated several research papers to understand the link between cancer and obesity. Findings indicated that four to eight percent of all cancers are because of obesity (5), with breast cancer post-menopause most commonly associated with obesity (4). Additionally, increased body fat induced a 17 percent increased chance of death due to cancer (5).

Depression

Obesity complications extend further than just the physical, as it can also impact your mental health. Specifically, obesity is linked to depression. Research from 2005 to 2010 found that 43 percent of depressed adults were also obese. Additionally, individuals with depression had a higher chance of being obese than those who were not depressed (6). One study found that those who were obese had a 55 percent greater risk of becoming depressed, and that individuals with depression had a 58 percent greater risk of obesity (7). This close interplay between the two conditions emphasizes the mental impact of excess weight.

Other risks

There are several other negative health consequences associated with obesity. One of which is sleep apnea, a sleep disorder in which you cannot breathe normally while asleep. With sleep apnea, you may have episodes where you stop breathing entirely for a short period. It may increase your risk for other health conditions, like heart disease and diabetes (1). In obesity, fat deposits form in the respiratory tract, leading to lower muscle activity and decreased oxygen to your tissues and blood vessels (8).

Excess weight can also put stress on your bones and joints due to gradual wear and tear on your joints. This can lead to tissue injury and osteoarthritis, a condition characterized by swelling, pain, and low range of motion in your joints. For example, one pound of body weight adds an additional four to six pounds of pressure on your knee joints. Likewise, individuals that are obese have a 20-fold increased risk of requiring a knee replacement.

Conclusion

It’s no secret that obesity is a major public health concern, both at a societal and individual level. Obesity is associated with numerous negative consequences, ultimately impacting your physical health, mental health, and quality of life. Thankfully, weight loss can prevent or delay many of the risks associated with obesity.

 

References

  1. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/weight-management/adult-overweight-obesity/health-risks
  2. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/obesity-prevention-source/obesity-consequences/health-effects/
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7082272/
  4. https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/obesity/index.htm
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9857053/#:~:text=Obesity%20has%20been%20linked%20to,cancers%20are%20attributed%20to%20obesity.
  6. https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/products/databriefs/db167.htm
  7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7449839/
  8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5836788/#:~:text=In%20obese%20people%2C%20fat%20deposits,ultimately%20resulting%20in%20sleep%20apnea.
Author
David Bauder David J. Bauder, PA-C David Bauder, PA-C, is a certified physician assistant and the assistant medical director at Weight Loss and Vitality in Manassas and Alexandria, Virginia, Washington, DC; and Gaithersburg, MD. He enjoys helping patients optimize their physical and mental health to improve their overall well-being. He earned his physician assistant degree from the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio. Afterward, he gained admission into the reputable graduate program for physician assistant studies at the University of Nebraska Health Science Center in Omaha. David has over 26 years of experience working as a physician assistant. He’s practiced in podiatry, family medicine, emergency medicine, general surgery, urgent care, and functional medicine.

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