Is Obesity Really That Dangerous?

Is Obesity Really That Dangerous?

It's been an interesting last several years. Fear over the rapidly-expanding obesity epidemic is slowly being replaced with messages of self-love for the larger individual. It almost seems to be OK to be fat.

Love yourself. Be OK with your body. 

The phrases fat shaming and fat acceptance are now part of life's daily chatter. We are currently being conditioned into believing there is nothing wrong with severe levels of obesity.

Related - Morbid Obesity - Your Ticket to an Early Grave

The weight of this social pressure is pushing us to discontinue any form of judgment. The masses are being brainwashed into feeling guilty for even considering the possibility that there is anything wrong with carrying around a lot of extra weight.

Soon, if this trend continues, calling someone fat will turn into a hate crime. This is unfortunate. Labeling someone "fat" doesn't inherently mean you are looking down at them, nor that you consider the obese individual to be a sub-human.

The word fat is simply an adjective. It describes a condition; a state of carrying around an unusually large amount of body fat.

From the Merriam-Webster dictionary:

fat adjective \ ˈfat \ fatter; fattest. Definition of Fat:

  1. Notable for having an unusual amount of fat. Plump. Having excessive body fat.
  2. Well filled out. Thick, big.

Being "fat" is a condition. When you are labeled fat, it is no different than being labeled tall, short, or old. It is a descriptor used to convey an important or noteworthy difference.

The word fat can certainly be used in a cruel way; to fat shame someone. It is important here to remember the essence of the following proverb:

It's not what you say, but rather how you say it.

When it comes to the condition of being fat - or rather, obese - it's important to remember that we should love the person but despise the disease. An obese individual is not a sub-human, but the disease that is killing them should never be accepted as being OK.

When it comes to the push for fat acceptance, we must push back and never accept the disease.

Obesity kills. Obesity is unhealthy. Obesity leads to mental strain and physical destruction. Let no one tell you otherwise.

Childhood Obesity

Is Obesity Healthy?

The logic goes something like this: Being fat doesn't mean you're necessarily unhealthy.

While it's certainly possible that an obese individual can engage in healthy activities, eat healthy food, and even have some quality health markers, they are still statistically unhealthy.

Science and statistics reveal that obesity is inherently an unhealthy condition. Carrying around extra weight is not optimal. You can certainly take steps to be healthier, and it goes without saying that some obese individuals are healthier than others, but as a group, the obese will always be in a healthier state if they lose weight.

But, a skinny person can be unhealthy!

True. But in almost every case a skinny individual that smokes or even has cancer will be generally healthier than an obese individual in an equal circumstance.

Obesity is certainly almost never an optimal state. On the other hand, when at a more normal weight your body is almost always in a healthier condition.

For the sake of discussion, let's assume I'm biased. Toss my opinions out the window for a moment, and let's analyze what we know about the connection between obesity and bad health.

Obesity and Cancer

Scientific literature reveals a strong link between obesity and cancer rates. It should be noted that the vast amount of evidence we have for this link is derived from observational studies.

While we can't definitively claim that obesity causes cancer, we do know that the obese have higher instances of cancer.

Does the fat itself cause cancer? Or is the cancer being caused by the bad habits that lead to obesity?

I think it's fairly logical and reasonable to conclude that many of the bad habits that lead to obesity can also contribute to higher cancer rates. It's also reasonable that because the human body struggles to carry around a lot of extra weight, this demand itself may create a cancerous environment.

Scientific studies have established consistent evidence that higher levels of body fat lead to increased risk of:

  • Colorectal cancer. Being obese increases your risk of contracting colorectal cancer by 30%. [1]
  • Endometrial cancer. Overweight or obese women are two to four times more likely to contract endometrial cancer. A woman that is extremely large is seven times more likely to suffer from this form of cancer. [2]
  • Pancreatic cancer. You are 1.5 times more likely to suffer from pancreatic cancer if you are obese or overweight. [3]
  • Esophageal adenocarcinoma. If you are overweight you are twice as likely to develop this form of esophageal cancer. Obese individuals are four times as likely to develop esophageal adenocarcinoma[4]
  • Meningioma. You have a 20 to 50% likely increase in contracting this form of brain tumor depending on the severity of your obesity. [5]
  • Gastric cardia cancer. Folks that are obese are twice as likely to suffer from gastric cardia cancer. [6]
  • Multiple myeloma. The overweight and obese have a slightly greater (10 to 20%) likelihood of contracting this form of cancer. [7]
  • Kidney cancer. Rates or renal cell cancer, a form of kidney cancer, double for those that are overweight or obese. [8]
  • Gallbladder cancer. The overweight are 20% more likely to contract gallbladder cancer. When obese, your likelihood jumps up to 60%. [9][10]
  • Breast cancer. Postmenopausal women with a higher BMI have an increased risk of breast cancer. One study revealed that a 5-unit increase in BMI was associated with a 12% greater chance of having breast cancer. [11] Obese postmenopausal women experience a 20 to 40% increase in contracting breast cancer. [12]
  • Ovarian cancer. Women are very likely to experience higher rates of ovarian cancer as their BMI number climbs. For each 5-increment increase, there is an associated 10% greater chance of contracting this form of cancer. [13]
  • Thyroid cancer. BMI increases also raise the likelihood of coming down with thyroid cancer. Each 5-increment increase in BMI raises the risk of thyroid cancer by 10%. [14]

It is imperative when considering the link between obesity and cancer that we look beyond the statistics associated with a single form of cancer, and consider the heightened risk for all forms of cancer combined. While obesity may only increase the likelihood of a single form of cancer by 10 to 60%, it can't be stated enough that it increases this likelihood for ALL forms of cancer.

This is like playing a deadly game of dodgeball where you have 20 opponents trying to hit you instead of just one. Think about that reality for a moment.

Before moving on to other ways that obesity destroys physical health, let's quickly discuss the possible reasons why it heightens the risk of cancer.

  • Obesity carries with it chronic low-level inflammation. Over time this inflammation can cause damage to DNA and increasing the likelihood of cancer.
  • Fat tissue leads to an increase in local estrogen levels, which can certainly contribute to the likelihood of breast, ovarian, and endometrial cancers.
  • It is speculated that fat cells may indirectly or directly impact cell growth regulators such as AMP-activated protein kinase and mTOR.
  • Adipokines are produced by fat cells. These hormones can either slow down or speed up cell growth. Leptin, which is an adipokine, appears to drive the proliferation of cells.
  • The obese generally have higher blood levels of IGF-1 and insulin. 

A 2012 population study looked at the correlation between BMI and cancer. It found that there were 100,000 new cases of cancer directly contributed to those that were classified as being overweight or obese. It should be noted that out of these new cases, 72,000 of them were in women alone. [15]

But wait, it gets worse. Being obese also impacts cancer survivorship. This means that the obese are less likely to survive cancer once contracted. [16][17]

Let the fat acceptance movement deal with this reality.

Obesity and Physical Health

Time to move beyond cancer. As if the increased threat of a cancerous growth isn't enough, obesity can destroy the human body in many other ways. Let's take a look.

Hypertension. Not only is there strong evidence for the connection between obesity and hypertension, but it also needs to be stated that hypertension is a gateway to other diseases. The famous Framingham study found that overweight and obese individuals accounted for 26% of all male hypertension cases and 28% of all female cases. [18]

It should be noted that this study initiated in 1948, long before the modern obesity epidemic. These percentages may be rising as the average weight of men and women continues to climb.

Heart Attacks. Obese middle-aged men are 60% more likely to suffer a heart attack than their lower-weight counterparts. [19]

Diabetes. 90% of all type 2 diabetes cases are found in overweight or obese individuals. [20] Weight loss has been shown to improve type 2 diabetes. Obviously, this may be a result of improved dietary choices rather than the dropping of weight. Either way, we understand that obesity drives type 2 diabetes.

Strokes. There are 130,000 stroke deaths each year in America. Being obese or overweight increases the likelihood of having a stroke. Obesity also contributes to the severity of strokes. Inflammation from fatty tissue, high blood pressure, and other obesity-related issues work to reduce blood blow and increase the risk of blockage. [21]

Sleep Apnea. It goes without saying that the obese suffer from higher instances of sleep apnea. This condition makes it hard to recover, repair muscle tissue and vital organs, and also contributes to a more rapid onset of somatopause which can drive the aging process. 

Osteoarthritis. Obesity is considered the greatest modifiable risk factor for osteoarthritis. [22][23][24] The obese experience 6.8 times more cases of osteoarthritis.

Fatty Liver Disease (Nonalcoholic). The risk of NAFLD, or nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, is heightened by being overweight or obese. Only 30% of the obese are considered metabolically normal. Metabolic abnormalities play a substantial role in the development of NAFLD. [25]

Kidney Disease. Bodyweight has a direct and taxing impact on the kidneys. An increase in weight drives heightened metabolic demands which result in a compensatory hyperfiltration in the kidneys. This creates an unwanted intraglomerular pressure that can either damage the kidneys directly or lead to the long-term development of CKD, or chronic kidney disease. [26]

Let's be real here for a moment. This list is nearly endless. There are hundreds, if not thousands of medical conditions or diseases that are either directly related to obesity, or worsened by the condition of being overweight.

Obesity and Mental Health

As if cancer and disease wasn't enough, the obese struggle with greater instances of depression, anxiety, and stress. I know the fat acceptance movement enjoys burying its head in the sand and pretending everything's just fine, but it's not.

Most obese individuals (meaning nearly all of them) dislike the way they look. The image in the mirror can be rather haunting. Compound this emotional stress with a decreased ability to perform basic functions well, such as tying one's shoes, or walking to the mailbox without getting winded, and a heightened state of embarrassment and shame sets in.

  • Approximately 43% of adult depression cases are from the obese.
  • Women that suffer from depression are more likely to be obese. [27]
  • The severity of depression symptoms are on the rise, perhaps growing as the rate of obesity grows. This is mere speculation though. 
  • Of the adults that take antidepressants but remain depressed, 55% of these individuals are obese. [27]

Suicide. Not something we enjoy discussing, but it must be addressed.

33% of females that are extremely obese (BMI greater than 40) exhibit suicidal behavior. 13% of men that are extremely obese exhibit the same behavior. 

Suicide attempt rates are similar in nature. Of the extremely obese, 27% of women and 13% of men have attempted suicide.

Anxiety Disorders. The connection between obesity and anxiety disorders is still being explored. Given the vast number of anxiety conditions, this is understandable.

With that said, recent research shows a connection between obesity and increased rates of panic disorders and social phobias. [28]

Final Thoughts

The information presented in this article is merely the tip of the iceberg. The obese also struggle with lower-paying jobs. This is not a punishment for being obese; it's simply a result of the reality that on average, obese individuals are not as healthy and can't perform as well.

Sorry if this offends you, but it's true.

Increased risk of cancer. Increased risk of disease. Reduced quality of life. Increased likelihood of depression, anxiety, and social phobia.

This is obesity. 

References

1) Ma Y, Yang Y, Wang F, et al. Obesity and risk of colorectal cancer: a systematic review of prospective studies. PLoS One 2013; 8(1):e53916. 

2) Setiawan VW, Yang HP, Pike MC, et al. Type I and II endometrial cancers: have they different risk factors? Journal of Clinical Oncology 2013; 31(20):2607-2618.

3) Genkinger JM, Spiegelman D, Anderson KE, et al. A pooled analysis of 14 cohort studies of anthropometric factors and pancreatic cancer risk. International Journal of Cancer 2011; 129(7):1708-1717.

4) Hoyo C, Cook MB, Kamangar F, et al. Body mass index in relation to oesophageal and oesophagogastric junction adenocarcinomas: a pooled analysis from the International BEACON Consortium. International Journal of Epidemiology 2012; 41(6):1706-1718.

5) Niedermaier T, Behrens G, Schmid D, et al. Body mass index, physical activity, and risk of adult meningioma and glioma: A meta-analysis. Neurology 2015; 85(15):1342-1350.

6) Chen Y, Liu L, Wang X, et al. Body mass index and risk of gastric cancer: a meta-analysis of a population with more than ten million from 24 prospective studies. Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention2013; 22(8):1395-1408.

7) Wallin A, Larsson SC. Body mass index and risk of multiple myeloma: a meta-analysis of prospective studies. European Journal of Cancer 2011; 47(11):1606-1615.

8) Sanfilippo KM, McTigue KM, Fidler CJ, et al. Hypertension and obesity and the risk of kidney cancer in 2 large cohorts of US men and women. Hypertension 2014; 63(5):934-41.

9) World Cancer Research Fund International/American Institute for Cancer Research. Continuous Update Project Report: Diet, Nutrition, Physical Activity and Gallbladder Cancer. 2015.

10) Li L, Gan Y, Li W, Wu C, Lu Z. Overweight, obesity and the risk of gallbladder and extrahepatic bile duct cancers: A meta-analysis of observational studies. Obesity (Silver Spring) 2016; 24(8):1786-1802. 

11) Renehan AG, Tyson M, Egger M, Heller RF, Zwahlen M. Body-mass index and incidence of cancer: a systematic review and meta-analysis of prospective observational studies. Lancet 2008; 371(9612):569-578.

12) Renehan AG, Tyson M, Egger M, Heller RF, Zwahlen M. Body-mass index and incidence of cancer: a systematic review and meta-analysis of prospective observational studies. Lancet 2008; 371(9612):569-578.

13) Collaborative Group on Epidemiological Studies of Ovarian Cancer. Ovarian cancer and body size: individual participant meta-analysis including 25,157 women with ovarian cancer from 47 epidemiological studies. PLoS Medicine 2012; 9(4):e1001200.

14) Kitahara CM, McCullough ML, Franceschi S, et al. Anthropometric factors and thyroid cancer risk by histological subtype: Pooled analysis of 22 prospective studies. Thyroid 2016; 26(2):306-318.

15) Arnold M, Pandeya N, Byrnes G, et al. Global burden of cancer attributable to high body-mass index in 2012: a population-based study. Lancet Oncology 2015; 16(1):36-46.

16) Calle EE, Rodriguez C, Walker-Thurmond K, Thun MJ. Overweight, obesity, and mortality from cancer in a prospectively studied cohort of U.S. adults. New England Journal of Medicine 2003; 348(17):1625-1638.

17) Schmitz KH, Neuhouser ML, Agurs-Collins T, et al. Impact of obesity on cancer survivorship and the potential relevance of race and ethnicity. Journal of the National Cancer Institute 2013; 105(18):1344-1354.

18) "Hypertension and Obesity: How Weight-loss Affects Hypertension." Obesity Action Coalition, www.obesityaction.org/community/article-library/hypertension-and-obesity-how-weight-loss-affects-hypertension/.

19) "Obesity Increases Risk of Deadly Heart Attacks." WebMD, www.webmd.com/heart-disease/news/20110214/obesity-increases-risk-of-deadly-heart-attacks#1.

20) "Type 2 Diabetes and Obesity: Twin Epidemics." American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery, asmbs.org/resources/weight-and-type-2-diabetes-after-bariatric-surgery-fact-sheet.

21) Home Page - Obesity Action Coalition, www.obesityaction.org/wp-content/uploads/Obesity-and-Stroke-Fact-Sheet.pdf.

22) Anandacoomarasamy A, Caterson I, Sambrook P, Fransen M, March L. The impact of obesity on the musculoskeletal system. Int J Obes (Lond) 2008;32:211–22.

23) Spector TD, Hart DJ, Doyle DV. Incidence and progression of osteoarthritis in women with unilateral knee disease in the general population: the effect of obesity. Ann Rheum Dis. 1994;53:565–8. 

24) Szoeke C, Dennerstein L, Guthrie J, Clark M, Cicuttini F. The relationship between prospectively assessed body weight and physical activity and prevalence of radiological knee osteoarthritis in postmenopausal women. J Rheumatol. 2006;33:1835–40.

25) "Obesity and Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease: Biochemical, Metabolic and Clinical Implications." PubMed Central (PMC), www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3575093/.

26) "Obesity and Kidney Disease: Hidden Consequences of the Epidemic." PubMed Central (PMC), www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5433675/.

27) "Products - Data Briefs - Number 167 - October 2014." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 16 Oct. 2014, www.cdc.gov/nchs/products/databriefs/db167.htm.

28) Lykouras L and Michopoulos J. "Anxiety Disorders and Obesity. - PubMed - NCBI." National Center for Biotechnology Information, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22271843.

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