The Dangers of Being Overweight

Published April 07, 2010

| Askmen.com

If science doesn't lie, then obesity is unhealthy, expensive and it's a rapidly growing problem.

A study by the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey found that over 65 percent of Americans are overweight or obese. As the figures rise, so do the associated health problems and accompanying medical costs, estimated to be at nearly $150 billion annually in the U.S.

With more than 15 percent of American children currently obese, it's not going to stop anytime soon. Let's start by talking about what it means to be overweight. Everybody has a healthy weight range, but if you're outside of your respective range, there can be significant physical consequences. The degree to which you exceed the range determines whether you are "overweight" or "obese." Health practitioners say that weighing more than 20 percent above your specified range is obese, while "overweight" is less than 20 percent (but a number above 25 on Body Mass Index).

While being obese is associated with greater complications, being overweight can hold an equal number of dangers.We've established what it means to be overweight, so now let's discuss the specific dangers of being overweight.

Heart Disease

The more weight you are packing, the greater your risk of an early death. Heart attacks are the No. 1 cause of death for American men. The link between extra weight and an increased heart attack risk lies in how the body responds to an increased fat intake. Naturally, the body maintains a steady level of water, carbs, fat, and protein, along with vitamins and minerals. A higher overall fat concentration increases sodium levels and ups cholesterol and triglyceride fats in your bloodstream. This consequence is especially bothersome because HDL cholesterol, a known risk-reducer of heart disease, is replaced by "bad cholesterol." The end result can be coronary heart disease, which can lead to heart attacks.

Excessive weight also increases blood pressure (hypertension), causing your heart to work too hard and increasing your risk of heart disease. An additional scary consequence of extra weight is an increased probability of angina-related chest pains and "sudden death" heart attacks (coming without earlier symptoms).As scary as it is to consider links between weight and heart attack risks, one positive is that even losing 5 percent to 10 percent of your extra weight will lower your danger risk and put you on the road toward healthy body chemistry.

Cancer

Hormones are the key link between an overweight person and an increased risk of cancer. The New England Journal of Medicine published a study that concluded that virtually all forms of cancer are more prevalent in people with a higher body mass. Body mass wasn't only linked to new cancer cases; it was also linked to cancer survival rates, which were lower for heavier people. To solidify this argument, The New England Journal of Medicine also pointed out that 15 percent of cancer deaths were tied to being overweight.These statistics are alarming, but how exactly does excessive weight cause cancer? There are continuing studies on the issue, but here's what we do know: With increased body weight, the adipose fat tissue can offset the body's natural hormonal balance, making the body an easier host for tumors.

Cancer is also related to the placement of fat on the body. For example, a high amount of abdominal fat carries a greater risk of colon cancer, and obesity-linked gastric reflux increases the chances of esophageal cancer.It sounds daunting, but the good thing to know is that increased physical activity and a proper diet are known to reduce cancer risks, so anyone can make a change for the better.

Gallstones

The exact link between body weight and gallstones isn't definitive, but gallstones do show up more in overweight people, with the risk of developing gallstones being up to seven times higher than for people of average weight. Gallstones are firm particles in the gallbladder that lead to abdominal pain and nausea. Although they aren't on the same scale of trouble as heart disease and cancer, they can still require surgery, with the removal of your entire gallbladder being the most effective procedure.The information linking gallstones to body weight is based on the composition of gallstones, which are made of bile pigments and cholesterol.

The cholesterol component is based on excess cholesterol that the body doesn't need. Comparative studies between diets show higher occurrences of gallstones in diets that are high in animal fat and sugar and low in fiber and vegetable fat. The automatic reaction to the gallstone scare might be to go on a swift diet, but losing weight quickly can also increase your chances of developing them. A better bet is a gradual weight loss, more exercise and an increase of Vitamin C in your diet.

Diabetes

As the number of overweight people continues to climb, so does the rate of diabetes. At present, there are more than 75 million Americans who either have diabetes already or have been diagnosed with pre-diabetes. While being overweight can result in further complications for people with type 1 and type 3 diabetes, it can be a direct cause of type 2 diabetes. Type 2 is typified by insulin resistance, and your chances of developing the disease are based on risk factors like how overweight you are, how long you've been that way and where your body deposits fat.

Body weight and the onset of type 2 diabetes share a link based on the interaction of fat cells and insulin. The cells in your body need insulin to bring them glucose, but fat cells are more resistant to insulin, leaving an unnecessarily high level of glucose in the bloodstream and not providing enough energy for the cells that need them. In essence, the fat is zapping your energy and eventually, the body becomes totally resistant to insulin.

Luckily, the American Diabetes Association states that with 150 minutes of exercise each week and a 5 percent to 7 percent body weight reduction, you can lower your risk of developing diabetes by 58 percent. This is encouraging news, but the link between being overweight and type 2 diabetes must not be ignored.


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Strokes

Strokes remain among the top five leading causes of death. When there’s an interruption in the brain's blood supply, what follows is an immediate life-threatening risk to the person in question. While there are many other risk factors in play, strokes have also been linked directly to obesity and being overweight, specifically where body mass is concerned. The Archives of Internal Medicine published a study showing that people who are overweight by 20% or less carry a 50% increased probability of suffering a stroke.

The study also explained that being more than 20 percent overweight carried a risk that was twice as high. Because of these statistics, it's important to know how weight and strokes are related. The tell-tale effect is that extra weight affects arteries by narrowing them. With narrowed arteries, it becomes easier for blood clots to form, which could cause a stroke later on. The narrowing of the arteries can be compounded by hypertension, low exercise level and a diet that contains a lot of cholesterol. Unfortunately, some (but certainly not all) overweight people don't exercise regularly and eat high-cholesterol diets, which increases their stroke risk dramatically. On the flip side, healthy eating habits and exercise can decrease your risk of a stroke later on.

Suffocation

We're exaggerating (slightly) when we say that being overweight causes suffocation, but there is a degree of truth when it comes to sleep disorders. People who are overweight are at a greater risk of developing sleep apnea, a disorder marked by a sleep pauses caused by breathing obstructions. Sleep apnea's interference with normal sleep patterns results in high fatigue levels, a loss of memory, sexual dysfunction, and a greater chance of accidents at the workplace.More than 12 million Americans have been diagnosed with sleep apnea, and over 50% of them are overweight. This isn't surprising because obstructive sleep apnea is common in people with short, wide necks and throats with excess tissue.

Many overweight people fit this profile, characterized by an inability to pass air to the lungs properly during sleep.While you can treat sleep apnea by changing sleep posture and wearing special masks, the most successful treatment is often weight loss.

The Risks and Appropriate Changes

When you look at the various afflictions that can result from being overweight, it becomes clear that bigger isn't always better. The risk factors that could hurt you later in life (or sooner than you think) give credibility to the idea of making lifestyle improvements. We've talked about some possible solutions, like dietary changes (less cholesterol and sodium, more fruits and vegetables) and an increase in physical activity. If you need to change or if you have a loved one who is living a bit too large, the best thing you can do is consult a physician and evaluate your options.

Regular medical check-ups can keep tabs on body changes and blood pressure levels, while helping you set your goals for a healthier routine to live by. It might sound like some work, but it's your body that we're talking about.

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