Being obese means you are at risk of developing several health problems, many of them serious. But it’s not just people who are obese who should be aware of these problems.
According to latest figures, around 23 per cent of people in the UK are now obese, and 43 per cent of men and 33 per cent of women are overweight. If figures continue to rise, the government has estimated that around 1 in 3 adults will be obese by 2020.
So, if you need ten reasons to make time to get active and think about your diet, read on.
Obesity and diabetes
Obesity is probably the biggest risk factor for developing type 2 diabetes. Around eighty per cent of people who have this condition are overweight.
Type 2 diabetes used to be called late onset diabetes as most cases occurred in people over the age of 40. But now, because of the steadily increasing number of people who are overweight or obese, even children are being diagnosed with the disease.
Type 2 diabetes is a lifelong condition. Once diagnosed, people are advised to try to control their condition by sticking to a healthy diet, taking regular exercise and monitoring their blood glucose levels.
Medication and insulin injections may also be necessary.
Although it’s not exactly clear how excessive body fat leads to insulin resistance, there is a mountain of evidence to show that it can.
It is estimated that around one million people in the UK now have diabetes but are unaware of it, putting them at greater risk of disease complications such as heart disease, kidney failure, blindness and amputation.
Obesity and cancer
Being obese increases your risk of several types of cancer and also increases your risk of dying from it. According to the World Health Organisation, being overweight is second only to smoking as a risk factor for cancer.
Cancers associated with being overweight or obese includes cancer of the oesophagus, kidney and bowel.
Around 10 per cent of bowel cancer cases are linked to obesity. Fat carried on the waist particularly appears to be linked with the disease.
Research suggests that obesity is also associated with an increased risk of kidney cancer, although the reasons for this are not clear.
Women who are significantly overweight are at increased risk of womb cancer and post menopausal breast cancer.
Similarly, obese women have a 30 per cent greater risk of breast cancer after the menopause, than women of a normal weight.
Obesity and gallstones
Gallstones are twice as common in people who are obese compared with those of a healthy weight. Even people who are moderately overweight are more likely to have them.
Many people have gallstones and are unaware of it because they don’t cause any symptoms. However, a stone can get lodged at the opening of a bile duct and stop the flow of bile from the gallbladder to the liver. This can lead to the gallbladder becoming inflamed and infected.
Acute pancreatitis can also result if the gallstone leaves the gallbladder and blocks the opening of the pancreas.
Obesity and sleep apnoea
If you’re obese, you are more likely to suffer from sleep apnoea (as well as snoring).
People with sleep apnoea stop breathing for 10 second intervals at least ten times an hour when asleep. Fortunately, this causes the person to wake up and start breathing again.
Not surprisingly, sleep apnoea can leave you feeling exhausted and barely able to function the next day, depending on its severity. It can also cause headaches, irritability and put the sufferer at risk of falling asleep whilst driving. It can even lead to raised blood pressure and an increased risk of heart disease.
Obesity is strongly associated with this health condition. As you sleep, the throat muscles relax. Excessive fat in the neck puts pressure on the muscles and temporarily obstructs breathing, causing you to wake up during the night.
People with sleep apnoea are also usually heavy snorers. It’s more common in obese men than obese women. In the UK, it is estimated that about 4 per cent of men and 2 per cent of women suffer from it.
Obesity and heartburn
People who are obese are at greater risk of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GORD) or heartburn. Compared with the risk of heart disease, stroke and cancer this may seem trivial, but this is not the case.
Heartburn occurs when the acid contents of the stomach move upwards into the oesophagus or food pipe. Usually this is prevented from happening by a valve at the top of the stomach. However, the pressure exerted on the stomach wall from being obese causes the acid to come into contact with the oesophagus leading to the typical symptoms of heartburn.
Complications of heartburn include oesophageal ulcers and the formation of scar tissue which causes the food pipe to narrow and make swallowing difficult. Bleeding can also occur.
Around one in ten people who regularly suffer from GORD develop a condition known as Barrett’s oesophagus, caused by changes to the cells lining the food pipe. This condition is a known risk factor for oesophageal cancer.
Obesity and joint pain
Obesity is an important risk factor for osteoarthritis. Although we are more likely to develop osteoarthritis as we age, being obese can both exacerbate and lower the age at which symptoms start.
Osteoarthritis develops when the cushioning material between the joints, known as cartilage, wears away, eventually allowing the bones to rub or grind together.
Unsurprisingly, the heavier we are, the more pressure we place on the body’s load bearing joints of the knees, hips, spine and ankles.
Losing weight cannot reverse the damage already done to joints, but it may help to lessen the pain it can cause.
However, the effect of obesity on the joints may be more than the mechanical stress on the joints caused by excess weight. It’s now also thought that chemicals released by abdominal fat may also contribute to joint inflammation.
Obesity, heart disease and stroke
Heart disease and stroke are the leading cause of premature death in the UK. Being obese increases the risk of high blood pressure and high blood cholesterol levels, both risk factors for heart disease and stroke.
The British Heat Foundation estimates that five per cent of deaths in men and six per cent in women are due to obesity related heart disease.
However, it is now thought that obesity alone is an independent risk factor for heart disease. Excess weight makes does your heart work harder, and increases the risk of high blood pressure. This in turn increases the risk of stroke and heart disease.
However, abdominal fat cells are now thought to be a be a source of a certain chemicals – adipokines – which are released into the bloodstream and are associated with an increased risk of heart disease. Previously fat was regarded as inert tissue.
Some adipokines may also play a role in promoting other obesity related illnesses such as osteoarthritis.
As grim as this sounds, the good news is that it is never too late to lose weight. As your weight goes down, do does your heart disease risk.
Obesity and cholesterol
Being obese is strongly associated with high blood cholesterol levels, usually caused by an unhealthy diet and lack of exercise.
Cholesterol is carried round your body by two types of lipoproteins – high density lipoproteins (HDL) and low density lipoproteins (LDL).
Too much of LDL-cholesterol in the blood can cause a build up of cholesterol in the arteries, leading to narrowing of the arteries and increasing your chances of heart disease, stroke and blood clots.
If you are obese, you are more likely to have high blood cholesterol levels overall, but especially the ‘bad’ LDL-cholesterol.
The biggest influence on blood cholesterol levels is the foods that you eat. Foods containing saturated fat and trans fats help to increase the levels of HDL-cholesterol and the risk of heart disease and stroke.
Conversely, foods containing healthier fats such as mono- and polyunsaturated fats can help to reduce LDL-cholesterol in the blood.
Obesity and high blood pressure
People who are obese are twice as likely to suffer from hypertension or high blood pressure compared with people of a healthy weight.
Blood pressure is a measure of the pressure blood exerts on your arteries. If your blood pressure is too high, you are at a greater risk of heart attack, heart disease, kidney damage and stroke.
In general, the heavier you are, the more likely you are to have high blood pressure, although in most cases you wouldn’t know it. The only way to find out is to get it measured by your GP.
Experts don’t know why obese people are more likely to have high blood pressure. It may be that the blood needs to be under greater pressure to circulate round a bigger body. It could also be because of higher levels of insulin in the blood, which is common in people who are obese.
Either way, losing weight usually causes a fall in blood pressure.
Obesity and back pain
Poor posture, prolonged sitting at computers and ageing are all associated with low back pain and it’s likely than being obese exacerbates it.
The lower portion of the spine – lumbar region – is made up of five vertebrae separated by spongy like material known as discs. It is supports the entire weight of the upper body.
The lower region of your spine is made up of just five vertebrae or small bones which support the entire weight of the upper body and associated muscles, tendons and ligaments.
Situated between the vertebrae are small discs which stop the bones from grinding together and allow the spine to move, bend and twist.
This part of the body is particularly vulnerable to injuries, stress and strains brought on by lifting, bending and twisting.
Lack of exercise can lead to the supporting muscle becoming weak, a problem for everyone. But excess weight can also put the vertebrae and discs under greater pressure.
Exercise is usually recommended to both prevent and help alleviate back pain, not easy for someone who is obese. Both walking and swimming can help to strengthen the lower back muscle without putting extra strain on it.