Being Overweight has Far-Reaching Effects on Health

Q: I am overweight, but consider myself a very happy person who enjoys life. Is being obese really a problem?

A: This is a great question, and one that many people may be wondering. Statistics, after all, indicate that approximately 70 percent of our population is clinically overweight or obese.

While we want everyone to enjoy life to its fullest regardless of body size, the fact is that obesity is associated with a number of medical conditions. Those that people are most familiar with are Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure—but its effects are far more wide reaching. You may be surprised to learn that obesity has been linked to:

Migraine Headaches
In the journal Neurology, Johns Hopkins researchers reported that of 4,000 people studied, those who were obese were 81 percent more likely to experience at least 14 migraine headaches each month compared to people who were at a healthy weight.

Obese people are at a higher risk for all cancers; in fact, the National Cancer Institute associates 34,000 new cases of cancer in men and 50,000 in women with obesity each year. Most concerning? Obese patients are often diagnosed in later stages and are more likely to die from the disease.

Obese women do have a higher rate of infertility due to insulin resistance and other hormonal changes. One study of 300 morbidly obese women found that over 90 percent developed Polycystic Ovarian Disease over a three-year time period. Even a small amount of weight loss can result in a return to fertility.

Premature Birth Risk
For heavier women who do become pregnant there is a higher risk of pre-term delivery, which carries negative impacts for both mothers and babies. It is thought that too much fat tissue and the associated endocrine changes may inflame and weaken the uterine and cervical membranes.

Lack of Sleep
Obesity and getting good quality sleep do not typically go together. Poor sleep contributes to many diseases, including diabetes, heart disease, and even obesity itself. Obesity and obstructive sleep apnea are highly correlated; apnea (failing to breathe normally) can be caused by fat around the neck area pressing down and closing off the soft tissues of the airway.

Sadly, a Yale study found that weight is the number one reason people are bullied, teased and discriminated against at any age. Of significance is that the main source of the teasing comes from those closest to the victims. Over 40 percent of obese children report they have been bullied or teased by a family member, while 72 percent of obese women in the study said they were teased by a family member.

These are just a few examples of how obesity can impact one’s life. Right now obesity is the first leading cause of preventable death in this country. Even a small weight loss of 10 percent to 20 percent of one’s initial body weight can make a big difference in health and well-being—and that can bring greater joy into an already fulfilling life.

Kathleen Baskett, MD is the Medical Director of Weight Management at St. Vincent Healthcare. She is a graduate of the University of Maryland School of Medicine, and the author of “Moving Forward: The Weigh to a Healthier Weight”.