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Health Risks Linked to Excess Weight and Obesity

Being overweight or obese can affect a person in lots of different ways, both physical and mental. It is now broadly accepted that excess weight is the leading cause of a number of conditions such as those listed below.

Anxiety and Depression

Being overweight can make a person unhappy about the way they look. Overweight people may find it difficult to buy clothes that fit, or feel uncomfortable in them. Some individuals can become depressed or anxious about little things like this, or develop psychiatric problems because of their weight problem.

Exercise Difficulties

Carrying extra weight makes it more difficult to do physical things. An overweight person is more likely to become uncomfortable, breathless and sweaty with just small amounts of exercise, and to tire more quickly.

Sleep Disturbance

If a person is overweight, their sleep (or their partner’s) may be affected. They are more likely to snore or suffer from sleep-related breathing problems. This appears to be due to the excess flesh around the mouth, nose and soft palate (at the back of their mouth) as well as the extra weight on the chest and lungs.

Bone and Joint Problems

It goes without saying that carrying excess weight puts more pressure on the bones and joints of the back, hips, knees and feet. This makes an overweight person more prone to arthritis and back problems. (Arthritis is the swelling of the bony joints). Besides that, gout (a deposition of tiny crystals of uric acid in joints, causing painful inflammation) has also been found to be more common in obese people.

Specific Problems for Women

Women tend to be more hairy if they are overweight and are also more likely to suffer from painful periods and even infertility. This happens because the body changes some of the excess fat into female hormones by a chemical process. These excess female hormones can affect hair production and women’s periods and can stop them getting pregnant.

If an overweight woman does become pregnant, she is more likely to have complications such as diabetes, high blood pressure and blood clots in the legs or lungs. (Diabetes is a condition in which a simple sugar called glucose has trouble getting into cells to fuel them with energy. In obese individuals extra fats are converted to sugars as well as other substances and this can upset the glucose balance in the body.). Overweight women are also more likely to need a caesarean section to deliver their baby and are more prone to complications during and after surgery.

In addition, women who are overweight are also more likely to suffer from urine leaks and urinary tract infections than women of healthy weight, because the extra fat puts more pressure on the bladder and makes it more difficult to control.

Surgery

If a seriously overweight person needs to have an operation for any reason, there is a greater risk of complications. The surgeon would first need to find the right spot under the layer of excess fat (which can often be 15 centimetres thick in parts), making their job more difficult before they even start the operation. In addition, overweight people are more likely to experience problems with scars healing, as fat heals less well than other tissues.

Post-surgery infections are also more common in obese patients, because skin can rub and get sweaty under folds of fat, particularly if they are in the groin or other moist, warm areas of the body. Likewise, chest infections are more common in obese individuals who have surgery, as it is more difficult to get air into the lungs on the operating table when the chest is heavy with fat. Moreover, excess weight puts more strain on the heart and other organs.

Specific Diseases and Conditions

There is a variety of chronic preventable diseases that are more common in overweight people. These include the following:

Gallstones

These hard pellets form in the gall bladder, a small pouch attached to the liver that stores the bile fluids needed to help digest fatty foods. Gallstones can cause inflammation of the gall bladder and are more likely to occur in overweight individuals because of the higher amount of fats and cholesterol in their bile. (Cholesterol is a fatty substance, which is both produced by the body and found in certain foods).

Hernias

A hernia is a weak spot in a wall of muscle, which can allow an organ such as the gut to bulge through. The most common place where hernias (sometimes also known as ruptures) occur is in the groin because here the muscle wall is weakened by the large number of blood vessels and other tissues passing through from the thigh to the abdomen. Hernias (particularly abdominal hernias which happen to be the most common type of hernia) occur more often in overweight individuals as the extra weight puts more strain on the muscle walls.

Cancers

Cancers can affect many different parts of the body. Two of the most common types of cancer are bowel cancer and cancer of the womb and these are two to five times more likely to occur in obese patients.

Circulatory Diseases

These conditions are concerned with the flow of blood round the body and through the heart. They are especially dangerous for overweight individuals and can be fatal. Examples include heart disease, strokes and metabolic syndrome (a combination of high blood pressure, high blood sugar and elevated levels of triglycerides in the blood). (A stroke happens when an area of the brain is deprived of the blood supply. This can be due to a blockage in a blood vessel, or a broken blood vessel that bleeds into the brain. As a result, parts of the body often become paralysed, sometimes permanently.)

Obesity is linked to several medical conditions that can make strokes more likely. For example, obese people tend to have higher cholesterol and hormone levels, higher blood pressure and a greater risk of being diabetic. These factors all increase their chances of developing atherosclerosis. (Atherosclerosis is a condition in which a fatty layer develops on the inside of the arteries, constricting the flow of blood and increasing the risk of blocked or broken blood vessels.)

Other Chronic Diseases

Other chronic diseases that have been found to occur more frequently in seriously overweight people include non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (i.e. excessive fat storage in the liver) and chronic kidney disease (a gradual loss of kidney function).