April 2013

The Total-Body Toll of Obesity

Many Americans realize that obesity is more than a cosmetic concern. A recent poll found that 78 percent knew that obesity can raise the risk for heart disease. Seventy percent recognized a link with diabetes. But what about high blood pressure? Cancer? Arthritis? When asked about obesity’s effects on the body, fewer people mentioned such consequences.

Photo of overweight man getting blood pressure checked

Beyond heart disease

Obesity plays an integral role in many heart-related problems. For instance, being obese can increase your blood pressure - the force of blood on your artery walls as your heart beats. High blood pressure for a long period of time can damage your body. It is a key contributor to heart disease.

People who are obese also tend to have high levels of fat in their blood. These blood fats include cholesterol and triglycerides - two substances found naturally in the body. But if you eat too many high-fat foods and get too little exercise, the amount of cholesterol and triglycerides in your blood can reach unhealthy levels. Over time, this build-up can clog your arteries, possibly leading to a heart attack or damage other parts of your body, such as your kidneys.

Clogging of the arteries also puts obese people at a higher risk for stroke. As plaque builds up in the arteries, some of it may break away and create a blood clot. If this clot blocks blood flow and oxygen to your brain, you may suffer a stroke.

Cancer and other health risks

Maintaining a healthy weight isn’t just good for preventing heart-related problems. Obesity may also be tied to another leading cause of death: cancer. Research suggests that obesity may increase your risk for cancers of the breast, pancreas, colon, kidney, thyroid, and gallbladder. It may especially put you at risk for cancers of the esophagus and endometrium, the lining of the uterus.

Experts aren’t exactly sure how obesity factors into cancer risk. It may be related to hormones, such as estrogen or leptin. Another possible reason may be chronic inflammation, when the body’s normal response to pain and injury works overtime. In people who are obese, the body may overproduce substances that spur constant inflammation.

Such inflammation around a joint can cause pain. That may explain why obese people are more likely to develop many types of arthritis, including osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Recent research has even found a possible connection between more people being diagnosed with RA and the obesity epidemic. Another way being obese can lead to arthritis: Extra body weight stresses joints, weakening them further.

Along with cancer and arthritis, obesity raises your risk for gallbladder disease, fatty liver disease, asthma, and sleep apnea. It may also cause infertility in women. What’s more, it can influence your mental health. Depression is common in people who are obese.

Always talk with your health care provider to find out more information.

Obesity can have far-reaching consequences on your health. Become better informed about it by taking this quiz. 

Online Resources

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute - What Are Overweight and Obesity?

Weight-control Information Network - Understanding Adult Obesity

 

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