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Common Health Risks Associated With Obesity

Apr 5, 2008
Obesity is not only a dangerous health condition - it creates and complicates many additional health problems for its sufferers. As a result, obese individuals (those with a body mass index above 30) have a 50-100% greater risk of premature death compared to individuals with a healthy body weight. Furthermore, as body weight goes up, so does the potential for health problems and the risk of premature death. We will now review some of the most common health risks associated with obesity. However, we will also analyze the ways in which weight loss can not only reduce the risk of premature death and certain diseases, but also improve upon many secondary health conditions associated with obesity.

Heart Disease

The prevalence of many types of heart disease - including heart attack, congestive heart failure, angina or chest pain and abnormal heart rhythm - is greatly increased for individuals that are overweight or obese. In fact, obese individuals have a 70% increase chance of coronary artery disease. High blood pressure is also twice as common in obese individuals. Additionally, triglyceride (blood fat) levels are typically elevated in those suffering obesity, while HDL cholesterol - known as the 'good cholesterol' - is often present in lower amounts.


Obese individuals have a 75% increased risk in having a stroke, as obesity is often considered a dangerous secondary risk factor for stroke. One of the most common causes of stroke is the condition known as atherosclerosis, a narrowing of the arteries that can lead to arterial blood clots. As atherosclerosis is worsened by a combination of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, lack of exercise and smoking; obese individuals are often at greater risk for stroke.


Studies have shown that a weight gain of just 11-18 pounds can double an individual's risk of developing type 2 diabetes. And over 80% of diabetes sufferers can be classified as overweight or obese, so there is a longstanding association between obesity and diabetes. Moreover, obese individuals have a 400% increased risk in developing diabetes.


Obesity has been shown to place individuals at increased risk for several types of cancer, including cancers of the colon, gallbladder, prostate and kidneys. In overweight and obese women, the risk of endometrial cancer (a cancer developing in the lining of the uterus) and postmenopausal breast cancer are also increased. In fact, women that gain more than 20 pounds between age 18 and midlife are at twice the risk for postmenopausal breast cancer than women that maintain their weight throughout their adult years.

Gallbladder Disease and Gallstones

The prevalence of gallbladder disease and gallstones is about three times greater in obese individuals. It is also believed that the risk of symptomatic gallstones is directly related to an increase in weight and body mass index (BMI).

Reproductive Complications

In regards to the effects of obesity on pregnant mothers and newborn infants, expectant parents should be aware of several possible complications. Firstly, infants born to obese mothers are more prone to high birth weight. As a result, overweight and obese mothers are forced to undergo a higher rate of Cesarean section deliveries. Obesity has also been linked to a higher prevalence of birth defects, especially neural tube defects such as spina bifida, and complications during the labor and delivery stages. Most startlingly, obesity has been shown to increase the risk of death for mothers and infants during pregnancies and increase the risk of high blood pressure in expectant mothers by nearly 10 times.

For women that are not pregnant but may become pregnant, obesity can cause women to experience irregular menstrual cycles and even infertility. Women that are overweight or obese should also be aware that pregnancy can also place them at higher risk of gestational diabetes.


Osteoarthritis and other musculoskeletal disorders are more common in obese individuals than persons with healthy body weight. In fact, studies have shown that for each 2-pound increase in body weight, overweight and obese individuals experience a 9-13% greater risk for arthritis and similar ailments.


Many overweight and obese people suffer from depression and other psychological or emotional problems. The feelings of unattractiveness, isolation, frustration and failure, which are sometimes at the heart of such depression, can be emphasized when an individual experiences rejection or any type of discrimination in a work, school or social setting. Overall, many overweight and obese individuals suffer from a reduced quality of life, caused not only by numerous health concerns but also the inability to complete some activities or achieve certain goals.

Breathing Problems

Obese individuals are more likely to suffer from breathing problems such as asthma, severe bronchitis and respiratory insufficiency. Also, the condition known as sleep apnea - difficulty breathing and interrupted respiration while sleeping - is much more common in overweight and obese populations.

While obesity can certainly take it toll on many aspects of a person's health, there is also some good news. For those that are overweight or obese, a weight loss of just 10% of total body weight can begin to have positive health effects. For instance, after an obese individual begins losing weight, the risks of heart disease and stroke are reduced. Furthermore, obese individuals may also be able to lower their blood pressure and blood sugar, improve their cholesterol levels and combat the effects of secondary conditions such as asthma or chronic back pain.

While a weight loss of as little as 10-20 pounds can have positive health effects, an individual's overall health will continue to improve as they approach a healthier body weight. For anyone trying to improve their health and quality of life by losing weight, it is also important to remember that the weight loss must be maintained in the long term for such positive effects to be possible. Therefore, overweight and obese individuals must be concerned about changing their lifestyles in addition to losing weight, incorporating healthy eating and exercise into their daily routines.
About the Author
Carole S. Guinane, a Chief Clinical Officer writes articles about obesity and weight loss for New Hope Today.
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