It has long been suspected that obesity is associated with many health risks, including early death. It was not until 1985 that the health hazards of obesity were first officially recognized by the National Institutes of Health (10). It is now felt that obesity constitutes one of the more important medical and public health problems of our time.
The National Institutes of Health and several other reviewers have summarized the large number of health problems associated with obesity (9).
A psychological burden. Because of the strong pressures from society to be thin, obese people often suffer feelings of guilt, depression, anxiety, and low self esteem. In terms of suffering, this may be the greatest burden of obesity, especially among adolescents. Severely obese people are often subjected to prejudice and discrimination (14).
Increased high blood pressure. High blood pressure is common among the obese (7, 16). The risk of developing hypertension rises sharply with an increase in body mass index (16). Even among school children, increases in obesity are associated with corresponding increases in blood pressure (8). Weight reduction is the single most effective nondrug approach to the control of blood pressure (7).
Increased levels of cholesterol and other lipids in the blood. The obese, including children, are more likely to have higher blood cholesterol, triglyceride, and LDL-C levels, and lower HDL-C levels (8). The ratio of total cholesterol to HDL-C rises as body mass index rises. A high ratio of total cholesterol to HDL-C is a strong predictor of heart disease. Weight loss leads to a correction of the negative blood lipid profile, with total cholesterol falling 1mg/dl for every pound lost (3).
Increased heart disease. Obese people have more of the typical risk factors for heart disease (high blood pressure and serum cholesterol levels), and as a result, they die from it at a higher rate (12). In a large 8 year study of nurses, risk of coronary heart disease more than tripled in those with a body mass index greater than 29 versus those with an index less than 21 (6). This has been confirmed in a study of US male health professionals (12). Risk of stroke also rises with increase in body mass index.
Increased cancer. The American Cancer Society study involving 1 million men and women showed that obese males had a higher mortality rate from cancer of the colon, rectum and prostate. Obese females had a higher mortality rate from cancer of the gallbladder, bile ducts, breast, uterus, and ovaries(10).
Increased osteoarthritis. Arthritis and other rheumatic conditions are among the most prevalent diseases (1, 4). Overweight persons are at high risk of osteoarthritis in the knees and hips. Overweight is among the most potent known risk factors for knee osteoarthritis, with persons in the upper 20% of weight having 7-10 times the risk of disease of those in the lowest 20% of weight (4). In the National Health Interview Survey, the odds of self-reported arthritis and other rheumatic conditions rose with an increase in body mass index (1).
Increased diabetes. The prevalence of diabetes is high among the obese (2). Weight loss by type 2 diabetics often results in dramatic improvements in their blood glucose and insulin levels.
Increased early death. Hippocrates, the ancient Greek physician, once noted that “sudden death is more common in those who are naturally fat than in the lean”. Several modern studies have confirmed the wisdom of Hippocrates. As the body mass increases, mortality from cancer, heart disease, and diabetes increases (10).
In general, the lowest mortality rates from all diseases combined are found among the lean. Maintaining leanness from early in life to old age is a primary goal.
The modern environment is driving the current obesity epidemic by favoring sedentary behaviour and overconsumption (5); therefore, physical activity and sound nutrition form the basis of obesity prevention and treatment.
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Learn how an Accredited Exercise Physiologist can help you to begin and maintain exercise in your life, so you can enjoy the health benefits of Exercise for Overweight or Obesity:What Does an Exercise Physiologist Do?