9 Biggest Health Risks of Morbid Obesity
Did you know that 70% of adults are classified as overweight or obese?
Just 40 years ago, only 25% of the adult population fell into those categories, and it is pretty obvious there is an obesity epidemic. With "fat-shaming" and other "fat acceptance" movements out there seemingly oblivious to the health risks of being obese, they say love who you are no matter your size.
That's all fine and dandy until you die early.
It's no secret that packing on the weight comes with some health issues, but to what extent? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, obese individuals are at an increased risk for a variety of serious diseases when compared to an individual with a normal or healthy weight.
These risks include:
- High blood pressure - hypertension
- High LDL cholesterol, low HDL cholesterol, or high levels of triglycerides - dyslipidemia
- All causes of death - mortality
- Type 2 diabetes
- Coronary heart disease
- Gallbladder disease
- Sleep apnea and other breathing problems
- Some cancers
- Lower quality of life
- Body pain and an overall difficulty with physical functioning
Mental illness, including clinical depression, anxiety, and other mental disorders
Obesity is a term used to describe someone who has a body mass index of 30 or higher. While not everyone who is obese faces these problems — if you have a family history of one of these conditions, your risk to develop them rises.
Public health officials warn that the result of inactivity and poor diets are quickly catching up to tobacco as a significant threat to health.
Morbid Obesity Health Risks
#1 - Heart Disease and Stroke
Carrying some extra weight means higher blood pressure and cholesterol is more likely. Unfortunately, both of these conditions also raise your risk of heart disease or stroke.
It's estimated that around 600,000 people die every year in the United States from heart disease. The American Heart Association considers obesity to be a major risk factor for developing heart disease. Large studies have shown the risk of heart disease increase with obesity.
Losing a little bit of weight helps reduce your chances of developing heart disease or stoke — and losing more weight will lower your risk even more.
It's not too late to start.
#2 - Hypertension
Being overweight is a major risk factor for high blood pressure. Surveys suggest that three out of four hypertension cases are related to obesity.
High blood pressure can increase the risk of other diseases, including coronary heart disease, congestive heart failure, stroke, and kidney disease.
#3 - Respiratory Disorders
Obese individuals have a reduced lung capacity and are at a higher risk of respiratory infections. They are more likely to have other respiratory disorders or asthma.
Studies suggest that asthma is three to four times more common among obese individuals. Over half of those who are obese have obstructive sleep apnea, and in cases where you are reaching into the morbid obese or higher, this figure jumps to around 90 percent of individuals being affected.
Obstructive sleep apnea is a serious breathing disorder and occurs when the excess fat in your neck, throat, and tongue block air passageways while you sleep. The blockage is what causes the apnea — which means you stop breathing for some time. This can happen hundreds of times per night and can reduce the amount of oxygen in your blood.
Obstructive sleep apnea may also lead to high blood pressure, heart failure, or pulmonary hypertension. It could also cause sudden cardiac death and stroke.
#4 - Sleep Apnea
As you read above, sleep apnea is a breathing condition linked to being overweight. It can cause a person to snore heavily and stop breathing during sleep.
This can cause daytime sleepiness and increase your chances of developing heart disease or stroke.
Weight loss often improves sleep apnea and it doesn't take a huge amount of weight loss to improve your conditions.
#5 - Cancer
Studies have reported links between obesity and a variety of cancers.
#6 - Type 2 Diabetes
Most individuals with Type 2 diabetes are overweight or obese. In fact, people affected by obesity or severe obesity are roughly 10 times more likely to have Type 2 diabetes.
Type 2 diabetes can lead to:
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
- Kidney disease
- Circulatory and nerve defects
- Infections that are hard to heal
You can reduce your risk of developing Type 2 diabetes by losing some weight, start eating a balanced diet, start getting more sleep, and get up off of your butt and get some exercise.
If you already have Type 2 diabetes, losing weight and getting more physically active could help to control your blood sugar levels. The more active you become, you may reduce your need for diabetes medication.
#7 - Gallbladder Disease
Gallstones and gallbladder disease are more common if you are overweight or obese.
Unfortunately, rapid weight loss or losing a large amount of weight could make you more likely to get gallstones. Professionals recommend losing weight at one to two pounds per week to decrease the likelihood of gallstones.
#8 - Gout
Gout is a disease that messes with your joints. When your body has too much uric acid in your blood, it can form crystals that deposit in the joints. Unfortunately, gout is more common in overweight people — the more you weigh, the more likely you are to get gout.
Short term sudden weight loss changes could also lead to a flare-up of gout, so if you have a history of gout, talk with your doctor for the best way to lose weight.
#9 - Osteoarthritis
Carrying extra pounds increases the wear and tear on our bodies. Osteoarthritis is a common joint condition that most often affects your hips, knees, or back. The extra pressure on these joints start to wear away the cartilage that normally protects them.
Weight loss will ease the stress on your knees, hips, and lower back while also improving the symptoms of osteoarthritis.
While not a comprehensive list, here are a few other conditions you may encounter from carrying around too much weight.
Kidney Disease - Hypertension, congestive heart failure, and Type 2 diabetes are all major contributors to kidney disease and kidney failure. Obesity can cause or make these conditions worse.
Alzheimer's Disease - Studies suggest that obesity in your middle-ages may contribute to conditions that could increase the risk of dementia and Alzheimer's disease later in life.
Septicemia - This is a serious infection that can quickly lead to septic shock and death. Studies suggest obese individuals are at a higher risk of septicemia.
Liver Disease - Obesity is a major contributor to fatty liver and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Most people with severe obesity have non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. This can cause scarring of the liver and worsen your liver function. This can lead to cirrhosis and liver failure.
Suicide - Studies have shown a correlation between severe obesity and major depressive disorder. Some speculate that physical and social discrimination issues surrounding obesity could contribute to the depression.
Take Control - Your BMI
Gaining a few pounds in a year isn't bad, but when you add those pounds up over the years... it can get bad. Two numbers you should know about yourself and understanding the risk of developing an obesity-correlated disease are your body mass index and your waist size in inches.
Body Mass Index
Your body mass index, or BMI, can give you a quick look at if you are at a normal weight, overweight, or obese. It simply measures your weight in relationship to your height.
- Normal Weight - BMI of 18.5 to 24.9
- Overweight - BMI of 25 to 29.9
- Obesity - BMI of 30 or higher
Check out our Body Mass Index Calculator and see where you are at.
The other important number to know is your waist size, in inches. Having too much fat around your waist may increase certain health risks more than having fat in other parts of your body.
Studies suggest women with a waist size over 35 inches and men with a waist size over 40 inches may have a higher risk of developing diseases related to obesity.
A Few Other Numbers
Along with your BMI and waist size, here are a few other numbers you could aim for.
- Blood Pressure - 120/80 mm Hg or less
- LDL (Bad Cholesterol) - Less than 100mg/dl
- HDL (Good Cholesterol) - Men: more than 40mg/dl, Women: more than 50mg/dl
- Triglycerides - Less than 150mg/dl
- Fasted Blood Sugar - Less than 100mg/dl
Lower Your Risk of Health Problems
Lowering your risk of health problems due to being obese doesn't mean you have to eat rabbit food and starve yourself. In fact, falling in love with cooking and finding a physical activity you enjoy can change your world.
Not only that, but studies suggest that losing only 5 percent of your body weight could lower your risk for several diseases. That means you only need to lose 10 pounds if you weigh 200 pounds. A slow and steady approach of losing 1/2 to two pounds per week is recommended and has been shown to be the safest way to lose weight.
Get yourself at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity like going for a brisk walk or bicycling. In order to lose weight, you may need to perform more physical activity, eat fewer calories, or a combination of both. Incorporate some strength activities like push ups, sit ups, or weight lifting a couple of time per week for optimal results.
As for food, the federal dietary guidelines recommend a few tips to help control your weight.
- Make half of your plate fruits and vegetables.
- Replace the unrefined grains like white bread, pasta, and white rice, with whole-grain options like whole wheat bread, brown rice, or oatmeal.
- Eat plenty of lean protein sources, seafood, beans, peas, soy, nuts, and seeds.
For most of us, that doesn't really help us figure out what to eat. I've lost over 120 pounds twice, and here's what has worked for me. Please note I've been unable to exercise much at all due to an ankle and foot problem that keeps me from walking.
So here are a few tips on what has worked for me.
Pick a Protein Source
Now is the time to see what is on sale or what you have on hand. Chicken, beef, pork, and fish are my normal protein sources. Chicken can be prepared in many ways, you can have some ground beef, hamburger patties, or whatever you like.
Pork loins are usually extremely cheap and a great source of protein, so stock up when you can. You can cut a pork loin into pork chops, chop the pork up into pieces for a pork stir fry, or you could smoke the entire loin and enjoy. The trick here is to start with a solid protein source and come up with a flavor profile you want to experience.
Are you in the mood for Mexican food? Do you want some stir fry?
Pick a Carbohydrate Source
Carbohydrates are a pain point for a lot of people — we all love our chips and highly-processed foods. I'm craving a Dairy Queen Blizzard as I write this.
But the trick is to look at carbohydrates as a fuel source... most of the time. You can still eat your cake, have your ice cream, or indulge in a candy bar.
The trick is moderation... but that doesn't explain what I mean. For me, I can skip the bun on my hamburger and enjoy more protein or simply have fewer calories in my meal. I don't miss it, and I definitely want to feel my belly get full.
Rice is not as bad as everyone makes it out to be. Eat your white, brown, or black rice and measure how much you eat. Cook a fair amount of rice and portion out one cup per meal. Both brown and white rice are just over 200 calories for 1 cup of cooked rice and it fills you up.
Instead of relying on tasty treats to get through your day, ask yourself if you could use those calories better elsewhere. Some days I will eat 8 ounces of chicken breast with one cup of rice or I could eat just under a pound of chicken without rice and have the same number of calories.
Pick a Fat Source
In light of all of the keto recipes and "low-carb diet" buzz out there, I have always preferred eating more meat and fats than carbohydrates. Sure, I will down a large pizza and breadsticks, but I prefer to eat carbohydrates sparingly.
Olive oil has to be one of my favorite fat sources, along with nut butters, nuts, cheese, and sour cream.
When you properly weigh or measure out your fats, you can have control of how many calories you are eating while you enjoy that gooey chicken and cheese bowl you just made.
What Moderation Means to Me
I lost quite a bit of weight while eating fast food and other restaurants. It took a few big changes, but I did it. Moderation means you have some plan for the food you eat every day. You can go have your Jimmy John's sandwich and chips for lunch, but if you have another large meal.
You just need to count your calories.
The great thing about calorie counting is you're able to eat what you want. But that's also the downside to it.
If you can get into the habit of counting your calories and logging what you eat, you'll have a better idea of what's going wrong. Oftentimes I hear friends that tell me "I didn't eat much today," but forgot they ate a family size bag of chips with a 44-ounce soda during their lunch.
Trust me, it's not rocket science and it definitely isn't hard to count your calories and eat healthier... the hard part is getting the discipline to do so. In the last six months of logging my food, I know exactly when I am eating too much.
While you are counting your calories, start using the 80/20 rule. That means that 80 percent of your calories should come from nutritious sources, while the remaining 20 can come from whatever you'd like. For a 2,000 calorie diet, that means 1,600 calories should come from whole foods and 400 calories can come from whatever you enjoy. I personally like to enjoy a Halo Top pint of ice cream.
Wrapping It Up
You have the power to make the changes needed to improve your health, the problem doing it. Get up and cook your food, learn how to shop and buy fresh foods, and start finding physical activities you enjoy.
It takes dedication to start eating reasonably, you'll need to be a little less lazy, and you'll notice changes fast — especially if you are very overweight.
It's a long journey, but it's worth going down. Every pound you lose will be a pound less you have to carry. You'll start seeing things you've not seen in years and you'll slowly start feeling better. As you start feeling better, you'll feel compelled to be more active, get out more, and try new things. Use momentum in your favor and keep your motivation high.
Come up with a plan and execute it.