Obesity is a medical condition in which excess fat gets accumulated in the body, so much so that it has an adverse effect on one’s health. Anyone with a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher is considered to be obese. People who are obese or overweight are at a much greater risk of developing serious conditions such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and osteoarthritis.
However, not everyone who is obese has these problems. A family history of health conditions and the accumulation of weight across the different parts of the body are factors that may also increase one’s risk of developing serious conditions.
The following are the health risks associated with obesity:
Being overweight or obese can contribute to high blood pressure in several ways. When there is an increase in body weight, it puts more pressure on the circulatory system to move the blood around the body. Obesity is also attributed to higher cholesterol levels, especially when there is weight accumulation in an area. For example, if the weight gain is in the abdominal area it can lead to thickening and stiffening of arteries in this area. This is a result of plaque deposition in the walls of the blood vessels which further increases blood pressure.
Being obese puts one at a greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes. This type of diabetes is usually common in adults but is now occurring in children too given the increase in obesity rates. Being obese can cause resistance of insulin, a hormone that is essential for the regulation of blood sugar levels. When the body becomes insulin resistant, it leads to lesser or no absorption of sugar in the blood resulting in elevated blood sugar levels. Obesity can also decrease insulin sensitivity, causing a condition called prediabetes which almost eventually develops into type 2 diabetes.
The chances of developing heart disease are 10 times higher in people who are obese compared to those who are not. Conditions like atherosclerosis (hardening of arteries) and coronary artery disease are more prevalent in obese people due to fatty deposits and plaque buildup in the arteries. This leads to narrowed arteries and reduced blood flow to the heart and can cause chest pain (angina) or a heart attack. Sometimes, the narrowed arteries can also form blood clots that result in a stroke.
Even a slight change in body weight can affect one’s bone and joint health. Being overweight can contribute to joint problems largely in two major ways. Firstly, the excess weight can put additional stress on the weight-bearing joints (such as knees) causing more wear and tear. Secondly, the inflammatory factors associated with obesity can also trigger problems in the joints and contribute to conditions like osteoarthritis. Even losing a little weight can help by improving mobility and bone health of the joints.
Sleep apnea is a common but serious sleep disorder that is characterised by repetitive interruption of sleep for about 10 seconds or more. This causes reduction of oxygen in the blood and may also wake the patient up from time to time. The most common cause for the development of sleep apnea is obesity. Being overweight leads to the development of soft tissue present in the mouth and throat. When the patient is sleeping, the muscles of the throat and tongue are more relaxed and the soft tissue may block the airways, causing an episode. The chances of sleep apnea are higher in people who have an accumulation of fat in areas of the neck and trunk.
Apart from giving rise to chronic conditions, being obese can play havoc on one’s mental health too. In a culture where being thin and slim is objectified as the perfect or ideal body type, people who are obese often face issues of inferiority. Psychological issues arising from being overweight can include low self-esteem, anxiety, depression. Being obese is also a trigger for eating disorders such as binge eating, bulimia, and anorexia.