Health risks of obesity
Obesity means weighing more than what is healthy for a given height. Obesity is a serious, chronic disease. It can lead to other health problems, including diabetes, heart disease, and some cancers.
People with obesity have a higher chance of developing these health problems:
- High blood glucose (sugar) or diabetes.
- High blood pressure (hypertension).
- High blood cholesterol and triglycerides (dyslipidemia, or high blood fats).
- Heart attacks due to coronary heart disease, heart failure, and stroke.
- Bone and joint problems. More weight puts pressure on the bones and joints. This can lead to osteoarthritis, a disease that causes joint pain and stiffness.
- Sleep apnea or breathing pauses during sleep. This can cause daytime fatigue or sleepiness, poor attention, and problems at work.
- Gallstones and liver problems.
- Some cancers.
Three things can be used to determine if a person's weight gives them a higher chance of developing obesity-related diseases:
- Body mass index (BMI)
- Waist size
- Other risk factors the person has (a risk factor is anything that increases your chance of getting a disease)
Experts often rely on BMI to determine if a person is overweight. The BMI estimates your level of body fat based on your height and weight.
Starting at 25.0, the higher your BMI, the greater is your risk of developing obesity-related health problems. These ranges of BMI are used to describe levels of risk:
- Overweight (not obese), if BMI is 25.0 to 29.9
- Class 1 (low-risk) obesity, if BMI is 30.0 to 34.9
- Class 2 (moderate-risk) obesity, if BMI is 35.0 to 39.9
- Class 3 (high-risk) obesity, if BMI is equal to or greater than 40.0
There are many websites with calculators that give your BMI when you enter your weight and height.
This is a good way for adults to decide whether they need to lose weight.
A. Compare their weight with their friends’ weight
B. Study the models in magazines
C. Calculate their body mass index (BMI)
Waist measurement is another way to see if you should lose weight.
Being at an unhealthy weight can lead to serious health problems, including:
A. High blood pressure
B. Heart disease
C. Type 2 diabetes
D. Sleep apnea
E. All of the above
To lose weight safely, get plenty of exercise and eat the right amount of healthy food.
Keeping a food journal is a good way to become aware of:
A. What’s on sale at the grocery store
B. Your eating habits
C. Where to buy the best fruit
Which of the following is NOT part of a healthy eating plan?
A. Fruits and vegetables
B. Whole grains
C. Fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products
D. Lean meats, poultry, fish, bean, eggs, and nuts
E. Foods high in saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, salt, and added sugar
Which of the following can help you control your food portions?
A. Follow the serving size on the package.
B. Eat as much as you want when hungry.
C. Eat from smaller plates.
D. Skip meals when possible.
E. A and C
To lose weight, you need to eat fewer calories than:
A. The calories you burn when you exercise
B. The calories you burn when you sleep
C. The calories you burn doing daily activities
D. All of the above
How much exercise should you get?
A. A half-hour a week
B. One hour a week
C. 2.5 hours a week
This is a simple way to get more physical activity:
A. Get off the bus one stop earlier and walk the rest of the way
B. Use the stairs instead of the elevator
C. Park your car farther away from your destination
D. Reduce your TV or computer screen time
E. All of the above
Women with a waist size greater than 35 inches (89 centimeters) and men with a waist size greater than 40 inches (102 centimeters) have an increased risk for heart disease and type 2 diabetes. People with "apple-shaped" bodies (waist is bigger than the hips) also have an increased risk for these conditions.
Having a risk factor for a disease doesn't mean that you will get the disease. But it does increase the chance that you will. Some risk factors, like age, race, or family history can't be changed.
The more risk factors you have, the more likely it is that you will develop the disease or health problem.
Your risk of developing health problems such as heart disease, stroke, and kidney problems increases if you have obesity and have these risk factors:
- High blood pressure (hypertension)
- High blood cholesterol or triglycerides
- High blood glucose (sugar), a sign of diabetes
These other risk factors for heart disease and stroke are not caused by obesity:
- Having a family member under the age of 50 with heart disease
- Being physically inactive or having a sedentary lifestyle
- Smoking or using tobacco products of any kind
Summing it up
You can control many of these risk factors by changing your lifestyle. If you have obesity, your health care provider can help you begin a weight-loss program. A starting goal of losing 5% to 10% of your current weight will significantly reduce your risk of developing obesity-related diseases.
Jensen MD. Obesity. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 26th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 207.
Ramu A, Neild P. Diet and nutrition. In: Naish J, Syndercombe Court D, eds. Medical Sciences. 3rd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2019:chap 16.
Spratt SE, Woodmansee WW. Endocrinology. In: Harward MP, ed. Medical Secrets. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2019:chap 16.
Obesity and health - illustration
Obesity and health
Different types of weight gain - illustration
Different types of weight gain
Review Date: 4/17/2021
Reviewed By: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team. Editorial update 05/23/2022.