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Health Risks of Being Overweight

Harry Mills, Ph.D.

People who successfully lose weight often motivate themselves to do so by keeping the health benefits of weight loss firmly in mind.  Overweight and obese people are at increased risk of developing serious and sometimes life-threatening illnesses as they age, including:

  • Heart Disease
  • Heart Attack
  • Heart Failure
  • Coronary Artery Disease (CAD)
  • High Blood Pressure
  • Angina
  • Abnormal heartbeat
  • Cholesterol problems (leading to heart disease)
  • Elevated LDL ("bad") cholesterol and triglycerides levels
  • Lowered beneficial HDL ("good") cholesterol levels,
  • Stroke
  • Type 2 Diabetes (the kind you develop rather than are born with)
  • Cancers (prostate, gallbladder, colorectal, breast, endometrial and kidney)
  • Liver problems (such as an enlarged liver, cirrhosis or a fatty liver)
  • Gastroesophageal ("Acid") Reflux Disease (GERD)
  • Sleep Apnea (Snoring and difficulty breathing while sleeping)
  • Asthma Shallow breathing (Pickwickian syndrome which can lead to heart disease)
  • Arthritis
  • Gallstones (in women)
  • Reproductive problems (irregular periods, increased birth defects, especially neural tube defects, and an increased risk of death of the mother and baby).
  • Memory and learning problems (in men)

The risk of developing some of these serious illnesses (type 2 diabetes, arthritis) tends to increase as a person gets heavier.

How fat is distributed on the body has important implications for health risks as well. Fat that accumulates around the abdomen and stomach areas (e.g., the so called "beer belly" or "love handle") predicts more serious health problems than does fat that accumulates around the hips and thighs. Men with waist measurements of more than 40 inches or woman with waist measurements greater than 35 inches are at higher risk for developing type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and coronary artery disease than are normal weight individuals or those whose fat accumulates around the hips.