You’ve undoubtedly heard or read countless times that carrying around extra pounds can weigh down your health. But how much do you really know about the myriad health problems that can stem from excess weight?
“There are so many reasons why excess weight is bad for your health. The main reason is that the weight usually is just a symptom of some other underlying condition,” says fitness nutrition coach Erin Akey, a former “food addict” who once tipped the scales at 350 pounds.
Akey says obesity often is associated with a cluster of conditions called metabolic syndrome.
According to the American Heart Association, this syndrome affects nearly one-fourth of American adults. The Mayo Clinic says conditions that fall under the umbrella of metabolic syndrome are:
- Increased blood pressure.
- High blood sugar.
- Excess body fat around the waist.
- Abnormal cholesterol or triglyceride levels.
Together, those factors bump up your risk of diabetes, heart disease and stroke, the Mayo Clinic says. And as we know, diabetes, heart disease and stroke are among the leading killers of Americans.
A startling statistic: More than 8 in 10 American adults with diabetes are overweight (body mass index of 25 to 29.9) or obese (body mass index of 30 or higher).
By definition, metabolic syndrome happens when someone has at least three of these measurements, according to the American Heart Association:
- Waist circumference of more than 40 inches in men and more than than 35 inches in women.
- Triglyceride level of at least 150 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) of blood.
- HDL, or “good,” cholesterol level of less than 40 mg/dL in men or less than 50 mg/dL in women.
- Systolic blood pressure (top number) of at least 130 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg), or diastolic blood pressure (bottom number) of at least 85 mm Hg.
- Fasting glucose level of at least 100 mg/dL.
So, what’s the prescription for preventing metabolic syndrome? Thankfully, it’s not complicated.
The American Heart Association advises that you can significantly reduce your risks regarding metabolic syndrome by losing weight; boosting your physical activity; sticking to a heart-healthy diet comprising whole grains, fruits, vegetables and fish; and setting up regular medical appointments to check your blood glucose, blood cholesterol and blood pressure.
Other than diabetes, heart disease and stroke, excess weight can be a risk factor for fatty liver disease, kidney disease and certain cancers, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Among those cancers are breast, colorectal and gallbladder.
Aside from heightening the risk of various diseases, excess weight can cause knee, joint and back problems, including osteoarthritis. Akey says these ailments can lead to taking high doses of pain medication, which can trigger its own problems, and to undergoing surgery.
“Just losing 10 pounds relieves 40 pounds of pressure from your knees,” Akey says.
In addition, excess weight and inflammation are interrelated, as one can affect the other. Cell-damaging inflammation has been linked to conditions like heart disease, diabetes, cancer and Alzheimer’s disease, according to Harvard Medical School.
Excess weight not only can take a physical toll, but it can take a mental toll as well.
“Obesity has a terrible negative effect on the brain in the form of depression. Many obese people find that they are extremely unhappy with their weight and yet are not really sure how to fix it in a safe, healthy way, and this leads to depression and anxiety and often a huge decrease in social activities and interactions,” Akey says.
The American Psychological Association points out that depression frequently accompanies obesity, “and the two can trigger and influence each other.” The association refers to this as the “obesity-depression cycle.”
Beyond the implications for mental health, excess weight can prompt sleeping disorders, says Caleb Backe, a health and wellness expert at Maple Holistics, a retailer of natural and organic products.
One of the common sleeping disorders tied to excess weight is sleep apnea, a disorder in which breathing repeatedly stops and starts, the Mayo Clinic says. The clinic notes that the risk for sleep apnea is four times higher for people who are obese than people who have a normal weight.
“Too much fat around the neck can obstruct the air passage, causing your brain to wake you up throughout the night to breathe properly,” Backe says.