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Read about the health risks associated with obesity.

Health Risks of Obesity

Many people who are overweight do not want to be overweight, obese, or "morbidly obese". Everyone has his or her own story or circumstances concerning about how or why their body proportions are as they are.

There are many possible reasons for obesity (see causes of obesity), such as:

  • being overweight due to medical conditions and/or medications
  • reduced ability to exercise following injury
  • genetics
  • and, of course, diet.

Although diet and over-eating is not the only possible reason for obesity it is usually the one that receives most press coverage. Diet and lifestyle are also the possible causes and contributory factors to obesity that most people are most likely to be able to do something about.

What are the main health risks associated with obesity ?

Being significantly overweight places extra strain on all of the systems of the body, affecting them in different ways. Examples of the effects of obesity on some body systems are listed in the table below.

These physical effects are not the only health risks of obesity. Health also includes mental health and social and emotional well-being, all of which can also be adversely affected by obesity. It is easier to measure, record and compare physical conditions but other effects such as depression, guilt, self-blame, embarrassment (e.g. to go swimming or participate in other sports), social isolation, and in some cases even the effects of bullying or harassment, should not be ignored.

Body System:

Organ, tissues
or body part

Notes:

Skeletal System
(Bones)

Vertebral Column :

Excessive body mass (hence weight) causes compression wear to the vertebrae of the spine. This can lead to conditions such as scoliosis and/or trapped sciatic nerve(s).

Joints (general) :

Increased risk of joint strain:

"Obesity is an important risk factor for osteoarthritis in most joints." Prof. Paul Dieppe, Bristol University (Ref. http://bit.ly/xYoVTS).

Hip Joints :

Obesity can increase risk of fracture of the head of the femur, especially in post-menopausal women.

Knee Joints :

The risk of degenerative diseases affecting the knee joints is higher in people who are significantly overweight.

Vascular System
(Blood Supply)

Heart :

Increased risk of heart disease and heart attack:

"If you're overweight or obese, you have a higher risk of developing coronary heart disease." British Heart Foundation (Ref. http://bit.ly/ztY9Ex).

Arteries (& arterioles) :

Obesity is associated with increased risk of:

  • atherosclerosis (hardening of artery walls due to accumulation of fatty materials, e.g. cholesterol, making artery walls thicker)
  • arteriosclerosis (stiffening of arteries)
  • hypertension (high blood pressure).

These conditions increase the risks of thrombosis, strokes and brain haemorrhages - any one of which can be debilitating or even fatal.

Veins :

Obesity increases the risk of varicose veins

Respiratory System

Lungs :

Obesity can increase the risk of lung infections because significantly larger body mass restricts movement of the diaphragm, in turn limiting flow in and out of the lungs.

Digestive System

Hiatus Hernia :

A hiatus hernia is an abnormality in which where part of the stomach protrudes through a defect in the diaphragm and up into the chest. This can increase the possibility of "reflux acid" into the oesophagus, causing heartburn and other symptoms. Obesity is a "risk factor" re. development of a hiatus hernia (Ref. http://bit.ly/wPv1w2).

Liver :

Chronic liver disease (cirrhosis) is associated with obesity as well as with excessive consumption of alcohol. See news about liver disease.

Pancreas :

Obesity is associated with various pancreatic conditions including pancreatic cancer and impaired endocrine function leading to diabetes.

Gallbladder :

Gallstones are more common in people who are significantly overweight, and especially in those who have been obese for a long period of time. In many cases the "gallstones" themselves are mainly "cholesterol stones".

Endocrine System
(Hormone Production)

Diabetes :

"The links between type 2 diabetes and obesity are firmly established." Diabetes.co.uk (Ref. http://bit.ly/x1imoV).

Reproductive System

Fertility :

" It is well known that being overweight or being clinically obese can have an adverse impact on a woman's fertility. ... Another study, which was published at the end of 2008, agreed that male obesity and infertility were linked." FertilityExpert.co.uk (Ref. http://bit.ly/zKSySZ).

 

Menstrual abnormalities:

"In conclusion, both overall and central obesity were significantly associated with having an irregular menstrual cycle." article pub. in the medical journal "Obesity"

Ref. Obesity (2009) 17 5, 1070–1076. doi:10.1038/oby.2008.641 http://bit.ly/AE5aP0

Other medical issues:

 

Cancer :

Cancer research continues to reveal various contributory factors to different types of cancers. Increased risk of the following has been associated with obesity:

 

Prostate Enlargement :

A recent American study found that a high body mass index (BMI) before age 40 is predictive of a larger prostate volume later in life (for details see http://bit.ly/AodDnp pub. 1 Nov 2011).

Other general issues:

Premature Ageing :

Additional strain on body systems causes the body to "age" faster.

Lethargy / Lack of Energy :

For physical as well as psychological reasons, people who are obese often tend to feel less energetic.

Higher risk of surgical complications :

"Obese patients are nearly 12 times more likely to suffer a complication following elective plastic surgery than their normal-weight counterparts" according to hopkinsmedicine.org (Ref. http://bit.ly/za1Vmh).

See also dietary needs as life changes, malnutrition, undernutrition and what are some possible effects of overnutrition ?

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