The Health Risks of Obesity

ObesityBy Jacquie Eubanks BSN, RN

Obesity is described as the health condition of anyone 20% or more above their ideal weight and can be defined simply as having too much body fat.  Although there are genetic and hormonal influences on body weight, in general, obesity is caused  by taking in more calories than are used in daily life and physical activity.  When you have too much body fat, especially around your waistline, you are at a higher risk for serious health problems. 

The National Institute of Health (NIH), assesses weight and health risks using three key measures:

  1. Body Mass Index or BMI.  A BMI of 30 or greater indicates obesity. To find your BMI go to
  2. Waist circumference.  Greater than 35″ for women and 40″ for men puts you at greater risk for developing heart disease and type 2 diabetes. 
  3. Obesity related health risks. 

Obesity related health risks range from increased risk of premature death to serious chronic health conditions that reduce overall life quality.  Obesity, along with smoking, high blood pressure and high cholesterol, are the key risk factors for developing chronic diseases. 

Obesity leads to adverse metabolic effects on diet related chronic diseases such as:

  • Type 2 Diabetes.  The risk of developing type 2 diabetes rises steeply as body fat increases.  90% of people who develop type 2 diabetes are overweight. 
  • Cardiovascular disease. Too much body fat raises cholesterol levels and raises the risk of heart disease. 
  • Hypertension. Obesity interferes with the regulation of blood pressure by affecting sodium levels and water retention. 
  • Stroke. Abdominal obesity is associated with greater risk of stroke for men and women. 
  • Cancer.  Increased risk of breast, colon, prostate, endometrial, kidney and gallbladder cancer. 
  • Osteoarthritis.  A major cause of disability. 

Obesity, along with smoking, family history, physical inactivity, high cholesterol, triglycerides, blood pressure and blood glucose levels puts you at greater risk for coronary heart disease.  If you are obese (BMI 30 or greater) or overweight (BMI 25-29.9) and have two or more of the above risk factors, losing weight is strongly recommended. If your BMI categorizes you as overweight,  you have fewer than two risk factors and do not have a high waist measurement, you would likely need to maintain your weight but prevent further weight gain. 

Once you have decided to lose weight, concentrate on healthy weight management rather than focusing on just weight loss.  Successful weight management means setting goals and making lifestyle changes that include a healthy eating plan, portion control and physical activity.  A reasonable and safe weight loss is 1-2 pounds per week.  Losing weight steadily over a period of time provides a successful formula for keeping weight off.  Successful weight management is a long term challenge not a quick fix.  An initial weight loss goal of 5-10% of your body weight is realistic, valuable and  beneficial to your health. 

To help you lose weight and maintain the loss, you may want to try to following:

  • Set 2 or 3 realistic and specific goals that are manageable.  Exercise more is not a specific goal.  Walk 30 minutes 5 days a week is a measurable goal. 
  • Make your goals short term to shape behavioral techniques.  Aim for small steps with consecutive rewards to move your closer to your ultimate weight loss goal.
  • Reward yourself with desirable activities not food.  Frequent small rewards for meeting smaller goals are more effective than big rewards that require long, sometimes very difficult efforts. 
  • Keep a journal of your caloric intake and physical activity.  As you begin to see changes in your weight and become stronger physically, you’ll be encouraged to stay with the plan.  Monitor your weight by stepping on the scale frequently, but not daily, as minor weight fluctuations are normal from day to day. 
  • It takes 15 minutes or more for your brain to get the fullness message.  Eating slowly, chewing your food well and enjoying your meal can help you eat less and feel satisfied. 
  • Know the difference between a portion and a serving.  A portion is the amount of food you choose to eat.  A serving is a measured amount of food and drink.

To lose 1-2 pounds per week, the NIH recommends a reduction of 500-1,000 calories per day.  Exercising 2  1/2 – 5 hours per week will help maintain your weight.  Losing weight may require more than 5 hours per week of moderate intensity physical activity such as brisk walking or bike riding. 

Every pound you lose is a step in the right direction.  When you maintain a healthy weight, your body circulates blood more effectively and you are less likely to develop diabetes, heart disease and cancer.  Remember obesity happens one pound at a time.  So does prevention. 

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