The Health Risks of Being Overweight or Obese - dummies

The Health Risks of Being Overweight or Obese

By Jane Kirby, The American Dietetic Association

If you’re overweight, but feeling okay now, you may be indifferent to dieting to prevent health problems. But your extra weight strains all your body systems, putting you at risk for developing one or more of the following health problems:

  • Cancers: A postmenopausal woman doubles her risk for breast cancer if she gained as little as 20 pounds before menopause. Almost half of all breast cancer cases occur among obese women. The endometrial cancer risk among postmenopausal women also increases with weight gain, and being overweight increases the chances by one and a half times that a woman will die from her cancer.

  • Diabetes: Nearly 80 percent of people with type 2 diabetes are obese. This disease is particularly linked to weight gain after the age of 18. Even overweight children are getting the kind of diabetes that used to be associated only with overweight adults.

    Losing as little as 10 pounds can reduce your risk by 30 percent. And for those who already have type 2 diabetes, reducing body weight by as little as 5 percent can significantly improve blood glucose levels. Weight loss may also improve insulin sensitivity, which means that cells respond more efficiently to insulin.

  • Gallbladder disease: The incidence of gallstones soars as a person’s body weight increases. A middle-aged woman who is more than 40 percent over her ideal body weight has a 33 percent greater chance of having gallstones than a lean woman of the same age.

  • Heart disease: Nearly 70 percent of the diagnosed cases of heart disease are related to obesity. A weight gain of 20 pounds doubles your risk of heart disease. Fortunately, though, reducing your weight by only 5 to 10 percent increases your HDL levels while reducing LDL and triglyceride levels.

  • Hypertension (high blood pressure): Being obese more than doubles your chances of developing high blood pressure. Statistics show that approximately 70 percent of obese American men and women have high blood pressure.

    The good news is that you don’t have to reach your ideal weight to get your blood pressure down. Many people see improvements within the first two to three weeks of a weight-loss program. Losing even 5 to 10 pounds can produce significant benefits and may even eliminate the need to take medication.

  • Respiratory problems: Respiratory complications, such as sleep apnea, are linked to obesity. Losing 10 to 15 percent of body weight can cure apnea.

  • Osteoarthritis: Being overweight or obese increases your risk for getting this painful disease, causing the bone and cartilage in your joints to degenerate. One study reported that a weight gain of 9 to 13 pounds increased the pain in the knees of arthritis sufferers. On the flip side, losing the same amount decreases the odds of getting arthritis by 50 percent.

  • Psychological and social effects: Overweight people often face discrimination at work and in social settings. Feelings of rejection, shame, or depression aren’t uncommon. Also, American society equates thinness with attractiveness.