The Health Risks of Being Overweight

Health Risks Associated With Being Overweight

Health conditions associated with being overweight can make it harder to live a healthy lifestyle. It can also increase the risk of death from serious diseases.

The most common measure of body fat is called BMI (body mass index). It’s used to identify whether a person is at risk for obesity.

High blood pressure

When you are overweight, you take in more calories than your body uses. This can lead to high blood pressure (hypertension).

High blood pressure makes it hard for your heart to pump blood. It also can damage your kidneys and cause strokes and kidney failure.

Certain factors can raise your risk for high blood pressure, including age, genes and being overweight. Other risks include not getting enough exercise, drinking too much alcohol and smoking tobacco. Your provider can help you control your blood pressure.

High cholesterol

Obesity occurs when you take in more calories than you burn through daily activities and exercise. Your body stores these extra calories as fat.

Saturated fats found in fatty cuts of meat and full-fat dairy products and trans fats in packaged foods can raise cholesterol levels. So can a family history of high cholesterol and an unhealthy lipid profile.

Other risk factors for obesity include insufficient physical activity, age and a lack of self-esteem. Obesity can also lead to digestive problems like heartburn, gallbladder disease and sleep apnea.

Type 2 diabetes

Obesity can cause insulin resistance, which is the body’s inability to use insulin to bring glucose into cells for energy. The condition is sometimes triggered by genetics, age and lifestyle choices.

Diabetes has short- and long-term effects that affect the nervous system, blood vessels, eyes and kidneys. It also increases the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure and narrowing of the arteries (atherosclerosis).

A diet low in sugar and refined carbohydrates can help prevent or delay type 2 diabetes. Your health care provider can help you make dietary changes.

Fatty liver disease

Having some fat in the liver is normal, but too much can cause health problems. Fatty liver disease is one of those problems.

It can happen when you drink too much alcohol, which is known as alcoholic fatty liver disease (AFLD). It can also occur in people who don’t drink alcohol, which is called nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD).

A doctor might order blood tests to check for inflammation of the liver. They might also do a test called vibration-controlled transient elastography, which uses sound waves to measure liver stiffness.

Severe COVID-19 symptoms

Many people infected with the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 don’t have severe symptoms. But for some people the virus causes serious complications, such as a condition called cytokine release syndrome or a cytokine storm. This happens when your immune system’s inflammatory proteins flood your bloodstream, damaging cells in the lungs and other organs.

People who are overweight or obese may have a greater risk of serious COVID-19 symptoms. This includes older adults and people with chronic medical conditions, such as heart disease or lung disease.

Digestive problems

Most people have experienced digestive distress at one time or another. But when digestive distress occurs regularly, it’s time to see a doctor.

Obesity increases your risk of digestive diseases and conditions involving the gastrointestinal tract, which includes the esophagus, liver, stomach, small and large intestines, gallbladder and pancreas. These diseases and conditions can include heartburn, indigestion, irritable bowel syndrome and colon cancer.

Sleep apnea

Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when the upper airway narrows during sleep, reducing or stopping airflow. This can occur because of excess weight (abdominal obesity), enlarged tonsils, changes in hormone levels, smoking and some medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes and polycystic ovary syndrome.

People with obstructive sleep apnea may have severe fatigue, daytime drowsiness and irritability. The repeated drops in blood oxygen levels associated with central sleep apnea can cause cardiovascular problems, including high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke.


Osteoarthritis, or OA, happens when the cartilage that cushions the ends of bones in your joints deteriorates. Cartilage is firm, slippery tissue that enables nearly frictionless joint motion.

OA usually affects weight-bearing joints, such as knees and hips. It also can cause pain in the neck, lower back and spine. It’s a long-term condition that can’t be cured, but staying active and getting the right treatment might slow progression of OA and improve symptoms. You can also reduce your risk by avoiding high-calorie foods and following a healthy eating plan.

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