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Health risks of obesity

Obesity is a medical condition in which a high amount of body fat increases the chance of developing medical problems.

People with obesity have a higher chance of developing these health problems:

  • High blood glucose (sugar) or diabetes.
  • High blood pressure (hypertension).
  • High blood cholesterol and triglycerides (dyslipidemia, or high blood fats).
  • Heart attacks due to coronary heart disease, heart failure, and stroke.
  • Bone and joint problems, more weight puts pressure on the bones and joints. This can lead to osteoarthritis, a disease that causes joint pain and stiffness.
  • Stopping breathing during sleep (sleep apnea). This can cause daytime fatigue or sleepiness, poor attention, and problems at work.
  • Gallstones and liver problems.
  • Some cancers.

Three things can be used to determine if a person's body fat gives them a higher chance of developing obesity-related diseases:

  • Body mass index (BMI)
  • Waist size
  • Other risk factors the person has (a risk factor is anything that increases your chance of getting a disease)

Body Mass Index

Experts often rely on BMI to determine if a person is overweight. The BMI estimates your level of body fat based on your height and weight.

Starting at 25.0, the higher your BMI, the greater is your risk of developing obesity-related health problems. These ranges of BMI are used to describe levels of risk:

  • Overweight (not obese), if BMI is 25.0 to 29.9
  • Class 1 (low-risk) obesity, if BMI is 30.0 to 34.9
  • Class 2 (moderate-risk) obesity, if BMI is 35.0 to 39.9
  • Class 3 (high-risk) obesity, if BMI is equal to or greater than 40.0

There are many websites with calculators that give your BMI when you enter your weight and height.

Test Your Weight Loss Knowledge

  • This is a good way for adults to decide whether they need to lose weight.

     

    A. Compare their weight with their friends’ weight

     

    B. Study the models in magazines

     

    C. Calculate their body mass index (BMI)

    Correct Answer
    The correct answer is to calculate their BMI. BMI estimates how much you should weigh based on your height. But not everyone should use BMI to decide whether to lose weight. Bodybuilders, the elderly, and parents concerned about their child's weight should talk with their doctor first.
  • Waist measurement is another way to see if you should lose weight.

     

    A. True

     

    B. False

    Correct Answer
    The correct answer is true. People with extra weight around their stomach area have a higher risk for type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Women with a waist size over 35 inches and men over 40 inches should talk with their doctor about losing weight.
  • Being at an unhealthy weight can lead to serious health problems, including:

     

    A. High blood pressure

     

    B. Heart disease

     

    C. Type 2 diabetes

     

    D. Sleep apnea

     

    E. All of the above

    Correct Answer
    The correct answer is all of the above. Losing weight can be hard, but the benefits are worth it. You do not need to lose it all. Set goals that you are able to achieve. For a person who weighs 200 pounds, losing 10 - 20 pounds brings down their risk for heart disease, diabetes, and other health problems.
  • To lose weight safely, get plenty of exercise and eat the right amount of healthy food.

     

    A. True

     

    B. False

    Correct Answer
    The correct answer is true. Work with your health care provider to set weight loss goals that you will be able to achieve. Learn healthy ways of eating, and gradually make them part of your daily routine. Add 2.5 hours of exercise to your weekly schedule. You’re more likely to keep weight off if you lose extra pounds slowly and steadily.
  • Keeping a food journal is a good way to become aware of:

     

    A. What’s on sale at the grocery store

     

    B. Your eating habits

     

    C. Where to buy the best fruit

    Correct Answer
    The correct answer is your eating habits. Write down what and how much you ate, what time you ate it, what else you were doing, and how you were feeling. Review your journal at the end of the week. You can see what tripped you up and decide which habits you want to change. Remember, small steps lead to more long-term changes.
  • Which of the following is NOT part of a healthy eating plan?

     

    A. Fruits and vegetables

     

    B. Whole grains

     

    C. Fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products

     

    D. Lean meats, poultry, fish, bean, eggs, and nuts

     

    E. Foods high in saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, salt, and added sugar

    Correct Answer
    The correct answer is foods high in saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, salt, and added sugars. Learn to read food labels so you can spot -- and avoid -- these ingredients. Stick with fresh fruits and vegetables, low-fat dairy products, and lean proteins. Limit processed foods.
  • Which of the following can help you control your food portions?

     

    A. Follow the serving size on the package.

     

    B. Eat as much as you want when hungry.

     

    C. Eat from smaller plates.

     

    D. Skip meals when possible.

     

    E. A and C

    Correct Answer
    The correct answers are A and C. When you eat from the bag, you may be tempted to overeat. Put one serving in a small bag or bowl or buy single-serving snack foods. Eat from a salad plate instead of a dinner plate. Keep serving dishes on the kitchen counter rather than on the dinner table so you’ll have to get up for seconds.
  • To lose weight, you need to eat fewer calories than:

     

    A. The calories you burn when you exercise

     

    B. The calories you burn when you sleep

     

    C. The calories you burn doing daily activities

     

    D. All of the above

    Correct Answer
    The correct answer is all of the above. You should eat fewer calories than what you burn during daily activities, sleep, and exercise. If you haven’t been exercising, adding activity to your day can help you lose weight if you also cut back the calories you eat. Taking a brisk 10-minute walk twice a week is a good start.
  • How much exercise should you get?

     

    A. A half-hour a week

     

    B. One hour a week

     

    C. 2.5 hours a week

    Correct Answer
    The correct answer is 2.5 hours a week. Start slow and build up how much you exercise per week. Include strength training in your routine. That counts toward your weekly total. As you become more fit, challenge yourself by boosting the time or intensity of your exercise.
  • This is a simple way to get more physical activity:

     

    A. Get off the bus one stop earlier and walk the rest of the way

     

    B. Use the stairs instead of the elevator

     

    C. Park your car farther away from your destination

     

    D. Reduce your TV or computer screen time

     

    E. All of the above

    Correct Answer
    The correct answer is all of the above. Small lifestyle changes can make a big difference over time. Find creative ways to build more activity into your regular routine. Replace some of your screen time with activities that get your body moving -- using an exercise ball, dancing, or doing yoga.

Waist Size

Women with a waist size greater than 35 inches (89 centimeters) and men with a waist size greater than 40 inches (102 centimeters) have an increased risk for heart disease and type 2 diabetes. People with "apple-shaped" bodies (waist is bigger than the hips) also have an increased risk for these conditions.

Risk Factors

Having a risk factor doesn't mean that you will get the disease. But it does increase the chance that you will. Some risk factors, like age, race, or family history can't be changed.

The more risk factors you have, the more likely it is that you will develop the disease or health problem.

Your risk of developing health problems such as heart disease, stroke, and kidney problems increases if you're obese and have these risk factors:

  • High blood pressure (hypertension)
  • High blood cholesterol or triglycerides
  • High blood glucose (sugar), a sign of type 2 diabetes

These other risk factors for heart disease and stroke are not caused by obesity:

  • Having a family member under the age of 50 with heart disease
  • Being physically inactive or having a sedentary lifestyle
  • Smoking or using tobacco products of any kind

Summing it up

You can control many of these risk factors by changing your lifestyle. If you have obesity, your health care provider can help you begin a weight-loss program. A starting goal of losing 5% to 10% of your current weight will significantly reduce your risk of developing obesity-related diseases.

References

Cowley MA, Brown WA, Considine RV. Obesity: the problem and its management. In: Jameson JL, De Groot LJ, de Kretser DM, et al, eds. Endocrinology: Adult and Pediatric. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 26.

Jensen MD. Obesity. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 25th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 220.

Moyer VA; U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. Screening for and management of obesity in adults: U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommendation statement. Ann Intern Med. 2012;157(5):373-378. PMID: 22733087 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22733087.

  • Obesity and health

    Obesity and health - illustration

    Obesity increases a person's risk of illness and death due to diabetes, stroke, heart disease, hypertension, high cholesterol, and kidney and gallbladder disease. Obesity may increase the risk for some types of cancer. It is also a risk factor for the development of osteoarthritis and sleep apnea.

    Obesity and health

    illustration

    • Obesity and health

      Obesity and health - illustration

      Obesity increases a person's risk of illness and death due to diabetes, stroke, heart disease, hypertension, high cholesterol, and kidney and gallbladder disease. Obesity may increase the risk for some types of cancer. It is also a risk factor for the development of osteoarthritis and sleep apnea.

      Obesity and health

      illustration

    A Closer Look

     

    Self Care

     

     

    Review Date: 5/8/2019

    Reviewed By: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

    The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., a business unit of Ebix, Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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