Obesity Health Problems: List, Risk Factors, Prevention & Treatment
Behind smoking, obesity health problems are the second leading cause of preventable deaths world-wide. In addition, less severe obesity-related conditions can drastically reduce the obese individual’s quality of life. This page will explore:
- Are you at risk?
- Minor to moderate health risks of obesity
- Major health risks of obesity
of obesity heath issues
Before getting into the specific health risks associated with obesity, let's address the universal methods used to determine whether you're at risk.
The simplest method is to first calculate your body mass index (BMI). If your BMI score is 40 or more, you are considered morbidly obese and have a high risk of developing the obesity health problems reviewed further down the page.
For a male of average height, a BMI of 40 or more means that they have an excess of 100 or more extra pounds on their frame; for a female of average height, a 40+ BMI means about 85 or more extra pounds.
An important consideration when interpreting your BMI score is your waist circumference. Used in conjunction with your body mass index, waist circumference is a direct predictor of obesity-related disease.
For women, a waist circumference over 35 inches (88 cm) along with a body mass index of 25 or more (“overweight” classification) places you at a high risk for obesity health problems. If your waist is over 35 inches, the higher your BMI, the higher your risks.
For men, high risk begins with a BMI of 25 along with a waist circumference of over 40 inches (102 cm).1
Additional factors that increase the overweight individual’s risk of obesity health problems include:2
- Cigarette smoking
- Family history of premature heart disease
- High blood pressure (hypertension)
- High LDL-cholesterol ("bad" cholesterol)
- Low HDL-cholesterol ("good" cholesterol)
- High blood glucose (sugar)
- High triglycerides
- Physical inactivity
While the obesity health problems in this section are usually not life-threatening, they can significantly impact your quality of life. Regarding quality of life, the Journal of Public Health published a study demonstrating that the higher your obesity level, the lower your quality of life regardless of whether or not any diseases are present.3
Minor to moderate health risks associated with obesity include:4
|Minor to Moderate Obesity Health
||Definitions||Relationship to Obesity|
|References: A, B1, B2, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J, K, L, M, N, O, P, Q, R, S|
|Arthritis||Inflammation of a joint. When joints are inflamed they
stiffness, warmth, swelling, redness and pain. There are over 100 types
||For every 2 pound increase in weight, the risk of developing arthritis increases by 9 to 13%.A|
||Chronic inflammation of the bronchial tubes (airways)
swelling and narrowing (constriction) of the airways. The result is
||Obesity as a cause of asthma is up for debate.B1 However, weight loss has been shown to improve at least one asthma outcome for those who are both asthmatic and obese.B2|
|Carpal tunnel syndrome
||A type of compression neuropathy (nerve damage) caused
and irritation of the median nerve in the wrist. The nerve is
compressed within the carpal tunnel, a bony canal in the palm side of
the wrist that provides passage for the median nerve to the hand. The
irritation of the median nerve is specifically due to pressure from the
transverse carpal ligament.
||Body mass index is an independent risk factor for carpal tunnel syndrome.C|
||An illness that involves the body, mood, and thoughts,
that affects the
way a person eats and sleeps, the way one feels about oneself, and the
way one thinks about things. A depressive disorder is not the same as a
passing blue mood. It is not a sign of personal weakness or a condition
that can be wished away. People with a depressive disease cannot merely
"pull themselves together" and get better. Without treatment, symptoms
can last for weeks, months, or years.
||Obese individuals have been shown to have a higher incidence of depression.D|
|Dermatitis||Inflammation of the skin, either due to direct contact
irritating substance, or to an allergic reaction. Symptoms of
dermatitis include redness, itching, and in some cases blistering.
||As body mass index increases, so does the prevalence of dermatitis herpetiformis and psoriasis.E|
|Effectiveness of oral contraceptives
||How likely birth control pills are to prevent pregnancy.
||Overweight women are 60 to 70% more likely to get pregnant while on the birth-control pill.F|
|Gall bladder disease (cholecystitis)||Inflammation of the gallbladder, a complication of gallstones which are formed by cholesterol and pigment (bilirubin) in bile. (Bile is produced in the liver and stored in the gallbladder). Cholecystitis is frequently associated with infection in the gallbladder.||The higher your body mass index, the higher your risk of developing gall bladder disease.G|
|Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
||Commonly referred to as GERD or acid reflux, is a
condition in which
the liquid content of the stomach regurgitates (backs up or refluxes)
into the esophagus. The liquid can inflame and damage the lining
(cause esophagitis) of the esophagus although visible signs of
inflammation occur in a minority of patients.
||Overweight people are 50% more likely to have GERD than normal-weight people, while those who are obese are over 200% more likely to suffer from GERD.H|
||A disease that results from an overload of uric acid in
the body. This
overload of uric acid leads to the formation of tiny crystals of urate
that deposit in tissues of the body, especially the joints. When
crystals form in the joints it causes recurring attacks of joint
inflammation (arthritis). Chronic gout can also lead to deposits of
hard lumps of uric acid in and around the joints and may cause joint
destruction, decreased kidney function, and kidney stones.
||An obese person is 4 times more likely to develop gout than an individual with a normal body weight.I|
|Hypertension (high blood pressure)
||A repeatedly elevated blood pressure exceeding 140 over
90 mmHg -- a
systolic pressure above 140 with a diastolic pressure above 90. Chronic
hypertension is a "silent" condition that can cause blood vessel
changes in the back of the eye (retina), abnormal thickening of the
heart muscle, kidney failure, and brain damage.
||Hypertension and obesity are significantly correlated, and the risk of hypertension increases as body mass index goes up.J|
||The diminished ability or the inability to conceive and
Infertility is also defined in specific terms as the failure to
conceive after a year of regular intercourse without contraception.
||Obesity is associated with both irregular menstrual cycles and infertility.K|
||The liver is a large organ in the upper right abdomen
that aids in
digestion and removes waste products from the blood. Liver disease
includes the following conditions:
||Obesity increases the risk for liver disease and liver cancer.L|
||Type of arthritis caused by inflammation, breakdown,
and eventual loss
of cartilage in the joints. Also known as degenerative arthritis.
||For every one point increase in body mass index, the odds of rapid cartilage loss increase by 11%.M|
|Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS)
||A hormonal problem that causes women to have a variety
||Obesity increases the prevalence and severity of PCOS.N|
||Increased pressure within the brain in the absence of a tumor. Symptoms may include headache, nausea, vomiting, pulsating intracranial noises, singing in the ears, double vision, loss of visual accuracy, and even blindness.||Obese individuals are at an increased risk for pseudotumor cerebri.O|
||The temporary stoppage of breathing during sleep, often
||The higher the apnea-hypopnea index (AHI), the more likely sleep apnea patients are to be obese.P|
||Sleep deprivation||As body mass index decreases, sleep duration increases.Q|
|Stress urinary incontinence (SUI)
||The unpredictable and involuntary loss of urine caused
sphincter muscles (the muscles that surround the urethra) and often
triggered by an event such as a sneeze or cough.
||Increase in body mass index is directly correlated with an increased risk for developing SUI.R|
Venous stasis disease
Loss of proper function of the veins in the legs that would normally
carry blood back toward the heart.
||Obesity is directly correlated with venous stasis disease, and obese people rarely see the disease improve without weight loss.S|
According to the Surgeon General, individuals with a body mass index over 30 have between a 50% and 100% increased risk of premature death from all causes compared with those at a normal weight.
The World Health Organization has similar findings, linking obesity with a doubled risk of premature death, many of which are directly related to the following:
|Obesity Health Problems
||Definition||Relation to Obesity|
|References: T, U, V, W, X|
An abnormal growth of cells which tend to proliferate in an
uncontrolled way and, in some cases, to metastasize (spread). Cancer is
not one disease. It is a group of more than 100 different and
distinctive diseases. Cancer can involve any tissue of the body and
have many different forms in each body area. Most cancers are named for
the type of cell or organ in which they start. If a cancer spreads
(metastasizes), the new tumor bears the same name as the original
||Overweight and obesity are associated with an increased risk for certain types of cancer, including colon, prostate, endometrial, gall bladder, kidney and postmenopausal breast cancer. According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, 90,000 deaths from cancer in the US could be prevented each year if Americans kept their body mass index at 25.T|
Type 2 Diabetes
One of the two major types of diabetes, the type in which the beta
cells of the pancreas produce insulin but the body is unable to use it
effectively because the cells of the body are resistant to the action
of insulin. Although this type of diabetes may not carry the same risk
of death from ketoacidosis, it otherwise involves many of the same
risks of complications as does type 1 diabetes (in which there is a
lack of insulin).
||According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, over 85% of people with diabetes are overweight or obese. In addition, gaining just 11 to 18 pounds doubles an individual’s risk of developing type 2 diabetes.U|
Any disorder that affects the heart. Sometimes the term "heart disease"
is used narrowly and incorrectly as a synonym for coronary artery
disease. Heart disease is synonymous with cardiac disease but not with
cardiovascular disease which is any disease of the heart or blood
||Obesity predicted a 26-year incidence of coronary disease, coronary
death and congestive heart failure in men. Women’s weight is
directly related with coronary disease, stroke, congestive failure,
coronary and cardiovascular disease death.V
In addition, data from 12,500 NHANES participants showed that an increase in BMI is directly correlated with the increased prevalence of hypertension, abnormal total cholesterol and coronary heart disease.X
For the mother, obesity increases the risk gestational
problems with labor, problems with delivery and death.
For babies, obese moms increase the babies’ risk of low blood sugar (associated with brain damage and seizures), high birthweight (higher Cesarean section delivery rate) and birth defects.W
See Pregnancy after Weight Loss Surgery for more information.
Official Position Statements About Bariatric Surgery
Several reputable and trustworthy non-profit and governmental organizations have endorsed bariatric surgery for the right patients. Organizations publishing official statements about weight loss surgery include...
- American Diabetes Association (ADA)
- American Heart Association (AHA)
- Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS)
- International Diabetes Federation (IDF)
- National Heart Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI)
- National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK)
- The Obesity Society
Not surprisingly, the primary preventive measure for obesity health problems is weight loss.
According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, an overweight person losing just 10% of their body weight will lower their risk of health problems.
You have three weight loss options to prevent or treat obesity health problems:
This first step is an obvious one that you’ve probably heard or tried more times than you’d like to remember. But it’s a necessary first step that, if achieved, will be the most rewarding and healthy weight loss option.
For a deeper exploration of diet and exercise habits and other obesity contributors, see our Causes of Obesity page.
If you are unable to lose weight and keep it off on your own,
has shown patients to be more open to losing weight under a doctor’s
working with your primary
care physician and asking for referrals to a dietitian, psychologist
and even a personal trainer to assist in your efforts.
If you have or are at risk for one of the obesity health problems reviewed above and have a body mass index of 27 or more, your doctor may prescribe one of several weight loss medications. The most effective diet pill for you would most likely fall into one of two FDA-approved categories:
- Appetite suppressants (sibutramine, phentermine, diethylpropion and phendimetrazine) make you feel full or lower your appetite.
inhibitors (orlistat) reduce the body’s ability to absorb
Unfortunately, even with the help of professionals and prescriptions, many of us just have too many factors working against us to allow significant and sustained weight loss:
- Obesity and genetics: hunger-inducing hormones along with the weight our bodies naturally “want” to be, also known as the Metabolic Set Point Theory
- The prevalence and marketing of unhealthy food choices
- Our demanding, time-strained lifestyle
- Our choices (intentionally last on the list)
If you have a body mass index of 35 or more and have been unsuccessful in your past weight loss attempts, you may be a candidate for weight loss surgery (also known as bariatric surgery).
In addition to helping you to lose a substantial amount of weight quickly, bariatric surgery can have a significant impact on obesity health problems. When evaluating the effect of surgery on obesity health issues, research has found the following:6
|Obesity Health Problems||% of Bariatric Surgery Patients|
||82% improved or resolved|
||82% risk reduction|
||89% reduction in 5-year death rate|
||55% improved or resolved|
|Diabetes (type 2)
|Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
||72 to 98% resolved|
|Hypertension (high blood pressure)
||52 to 92% resolved|
|Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease
||90% improved steatosis; 37% resolution of inflammation; 20% resolution of fibrosis on repeat biopsy|
|Orthopedic problems or degenerative joint disease
||41 to 76% resolved|
|Polycystic ovarian syndrome
||78% resolution of hirsuitism; 100% resolution of menstrual dysfunction|
||74 to 98% resolved|
|Stress urinary incontinence
||44 to 88% resolved|
|Venous stasis disease||95% resolved|
|NOTE: Results vary greatly by procedure. See the Buchwald, et al meta analysis paper for a procedure-based and much more thorough analysis.|
Despite the positive effect of bariatric surgery on weight and obesity health problems, it is not the right solution for everyone. In addition to preparing for and going through with surgery, big sacrifices must be made in life after weight loss surgery for patients to be successful.
You have two options for determining whether weight loss surgery could be an option for you:
- See our Bariatric Treatment page to get an initial understanding of whether surgery could be an option for you.
- Most qualified surgeons offer free seminars and/or free one-on-one consultations that teach you about your options and their office's specific results. Click here to find and schedule a free in-person seminar or one-on-one consultation with a qualified weight loss surgeon in your area.
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References for Obesity Health Problems
- Classification of Overweight and Obesity by BMI, Waist
and Associated Disease Risks. National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute - Obesity Education Initiative. Available at: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/public/heart/obesity/lose_wt/bmi_dis.htm
- National Heart Lung and Blood Institute - Obesity Education
Initiative. Information for Patients and the
Public. Available at: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/public/
- Jia, Lubetkin, J Public Health 2005;27(2):156-64 (AHRQ grant HS13770)
- Definitions courtesy of MedTerms, available at: http://www.medterms.com
- E. Logue, K. Sutton, D. Jarjoura and W. Smucker Department of Family Practice, Summa Health System, Akron, OH. Obesity management in primary care: assessment of readiness to change among 284 family practice patients. Jour Am Board of Fam Medicine. Vol 13, Issue 3 164-171, 2000.
- Stacy A Brethauer, Bipan Chand and Philip R Schauer. Risks and benefits of bariatric surgery: current evidence. Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine 2006; 73(11):993-1007; doi:10.3949/ccjm.73.11.993.
[Last editorial review/modification of this page: 1/2/2013]
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