The Many Ways Obesity Affects Your Health

Obesity, a nationwide epidemic, occurs when someone has accumulated so much extra body fat that it may have a detrimental effect on the person’s overall health.

A common problem that arises because of the high caloric, sugar and carbohydrate intake that is prevalent in today’s Western diet, someone is considered obese if his or her body weight is at least 20 percent higher1 than its healthful range.

The major effects of obesity include an increased chance of type II diabetes, heart disease and other major diseases. Research also indicates that those who struggle with obesity may reduce their lifespan by three to seven years, with morbid obesity, characterized as someone 100 pounds over his/her ideal body weight, reducing life expectancy by as much as 10 years.2

Quick Facts About Obesity

  • Obese women are more likely to give birth to asthmatic babies, according to a recent study presented to the American Thoracic Society.3
  • Another study by the ATS says that a high waist circumference is associated with a decreased ability for the lungs to function fully, regardless of a history with smoking, body mass index, and other complicating factors.4
  • According to the Center for Disease Control about 39.8 percent of American citizens are obese which affected about 93.3 million adults in the United States.5
  • The prevalence of obesity for children and adolescents ages 2-19 was 18.5 percent and affected about 13.7 million child and adolescents.
  • Health costs for obesity-related health problems for 2008 alone were around $147 billion.
  • Every year, nearly 300,000 deaths are caused by obesity-related illnesses.

Small Changes Can Make a Significant Difference

In combating the harmful effects of obesity, weight loss is key. But for those who are overweight or obese, it’s probably encouraging to know that even a modest loss, say five to 15 percent of one’s total body weight, can dramatically help reduce the chances of heart disease in particular.

Weight loss also helps to lower blood pressure, decrease blood sugar levels and normalize elevated cholesterol readings, all of which are important for a healthy lifestyle. Anyone with a body mass index (BMI) that is higher than a normal, healthy weight range can benefit from weight loss — especially if that person is a heavy smoker, shows signs of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, lives a sedentary lifestyle or has a genetic history of heart disease.

Obesity is often reduced to an issue of aesthetics. What’s often missing from the conversation is the emphasis on someone’s health. Obesity can affect people in a variety of harmful ways and significantly reduce life expectancy. But making a few positive changes in diet and exercise can be a real game changer for anyone struggling.

The Relationship Between Obesity and Diabetes Type 2

Another dangerous byproduct of obesity is the potential for insulin resistance. Insulin is the hormone that plays a vital role in regulating sugar in the blood so it will be properly stored as energy. But when there’s an overabundance of body fat, there can be an increase in cytoki, chemicals that are similar to hormones.

The problem with cytoki is they cause the cells that secrete them to build up a resistance to insulin. As a result, the pancreas is now forced to secrete more insulin into the bloodstream. With cells now desensitized to both insulin and sugar, there is an excess of both in the bloodstream.

According to a recent report from the Surgeon General, chronic diseases including diabetes are among the leading causes of death and disability in the U.S.6 They are also the most costly. Despite that grim news, however, Type 2 diabetes is also considered preventable.

The World Health Organization reports that at least 80 percent of all heart disease, stroke, and Type 2 diabetes, not to mention up to 40 percent of cancer, could be prevented with better nutrition, more physical activity and by abstaining from tobacco use.

Diabetes, like obesity, increases the risk for various problems such as hypertension or high blood pressure, meaning more work for the heart to pump blood throughout the body. It also increases the probability of a stroke, which is an interruption of the blood flow to the brain that can cause severe damage to brain cells.

And that’s precisely why obesity must be kept in check. When someone is dealing with Type 2 diabetes, it can open the floodgates to other diseases and physical ailments.

Connecting the Dots Between Obesity and the Likelihood of a Stroke

Strokes are another serious concern for someone who struggles with obesity. Strokes used to be more commonplace for those over the age of 60, but now it is becoming increasingly prevalent in the younger generation, especially those with diabetes.

A stroke occurs when there is a disturbance to the blood flow to the brain that results in damage to vital brain cells. The ability for limb movement, speech and in some cases, sight, are among the more minor outcomes, while death is quite common as well. While obesity isn’t a direct cause of a stroke, it certainly increases the risk of having one.

According to the American Heart Association, these are some symptoms linked to obesity that increase someone’s likelihood for suffering a stroke:

  • Sleep apnea – Those suffering from obesity are at an increased risk of suffering from difficulties breathing particularly during sleep. This is known as sleep apnea, and can further lead to irregular heart rhythms, followed by higher blood pressure, which may lead to stroke.
  • High body fat – An increase in body fat, well above the average body mass index (BMI) number can lead to issues with blood flow along with an increased risk of blockage, both of which can promote stroke.
  • Left ventricular hypertrophy – Those who are overweight or obese sometimes have an amplification of the left sides of their hearts, formally called left ventricular hypertrophy, which is caused by higher-than-average blood pressure and increased heart strain. Left ventricular hypertrophy, along with the other obesity-related problems, often predates stroke in both children and adults.
  • Metabolic syndrome X – Twenty percent of overweight individuals have a condition known as Metabolic Syndrome X. This is a cluster of issues that includes high blood pressure as well as an increased likelihood of diabetes and stroke.6

The Dangers of High Blood Pressure and Hypertension

Another significant health concern often triggered by obesity is high blood pressure or hypertension.

Forcing the heart to work so much harder to complete one of its primary functions, circulating blood throughout the body, those who suffer from obesity are at an increased risk due to an increase in fatty tissue. More pronounced in people who gain weight primarily in their abdominal region, it’s been estimated that excess body weight accounted for 25 percent of hypertension in men and 28 percent in women, according to the Framingham Heart Study.6

The same study discovered there are between 58 and 65 million adults who struggle with hypertension in the United States with those who are obese far more at risk than men and women with average BMI rates.

High blood pressure, along with high sodium intake, are a one-two punch often caused by obesity and can lead to a number of other health-related issues. Meanwhile, a problematic outcome of hypertension is an increased level of stress.

Taking the Next Step

The effects of obesity are multi-faceted and diabetes, high blood pressure and strokes, along with all the other negative effects of obesity are all interconnected. When one makes lifestyle changes that include healthier eating and regular exercise, it can off-set these ill effects.

For some people, dedicated lifestyle changes and support from family and friends7 are all that’s necessary to recover from a life of obesity. Others, particularly those who suffer from obesity-related eating disorders such as binge-eating may benefit from an addiction treatment program.

Make no mistake, food addictions are just as serious and dangerous as any other addictions, so it’s important to get help for yourself — or the one you love right away.

In some cases, your loved one may be unwilling to see that they have a problem. You may need to enlist the help of a professional interventionist8 who can help you stage an intervention to help your loved one. While the changes required to lose weight aren’t easy and immediate, when one weights them against the ill effects of diabetes, hypertension and stroke, it’s certainly a worthwhile compromise.


“What Is Obesity?” Medical News Today, January 5, 2016.

“What is Morbid Obesity?” UR Medicine Highland Hospital, Accessed September 26, 2018.

“Obese Moms, Asthmatic Kids.” News Wise, May 11, 2009.

“Love Handles Put the Squeeze on Lungs.” News Wise, March 4, 2009.

“Obesity and Overweight.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, May 3, 2017.

“Framington Heart Study.” Framington Heart Study, Accessed September 25, 2018.

“Family Support.” Foundations Recovery Network, Accessed September 25, 2018.

“6 Reasons to Hire an Interventionist.” Foundations Recovery Network, Accessed September 25, 2018.

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