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Navigating health: understanding obesity as a risk factor

January 12, 2024
6 minutes
Your Health
Chronic Conditions

Obesity is a disease that affects nearly 42% of Americans, according to the CDC. If you are a person with obesity, you’re not alone. And it’s important to know this health condition affects more than just your weight. Obesity is connected to many serious health concerns, and understanding these risks and comorbidities will help you understand why prioritizing your health is so important.

Obesity as a risk factor: health risks associated with obesity

Obesity has a clear connection to several serious health conditions. That’s why doctors are so careful to recommend healthy changes if they see a patient’s weight increasing. While there may not be a direct link between obesity and specific conditions, the increased risk is clear.

Why is this? For one thing, too much extra weight takes a toll on the bones, joints, heart, brain, muscles, and additional body systems. Visceral fat, which is the fat around internal organs, can raise blood cholesterol and blood pressure levels while also increasing the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. Fatty material can build up in the arteries. Sometimes, this can lead to clogs that can prevent blood from flowing properly to the heart or brain. This fact, combined with the higher risk of high blood pressure or high cholesterol levels, increases your chances of developing more serious heart health issues.

Cardiovascular disease is just one health risk people with obesity may face. According to the CDC, other health factors include:

  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Gallbladder disease
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Sleep apnea
  • Cancer
  • Mental health concerns
  • Body pain

This list can feel a little overwhelming, but remember, you’re not alone. If you have obesity, many others are also facing these challenges. Understanding these risk factors will help you take the best possible care of your health and wellness.

Obesity and comorbidity

While obesity is a risk factor for several serious conditions, it’s also often found along with other conditions. This is known as comorbidity. Comorbid conditions don’t necessarily cause each other, but they are found together. Interestingly, there’s some overlap between risk factors and comorbid conditions when it comes to obesity. Specifically, obesity is often comorbid with:

Diabetes

According to Harvard, Type 2 diabetes is the health condition most strongly influenced by body weight. Someone who has a BMI of 35 or higher is 93 times more likely to also have diabetes. Researchers theorize that inflammation produced by fat cells may contribute to this link, especially abdominal fat cells. Too much inflammation affects blood sugar levels, which may be why these conditions are often found together.

Cardiovascular disease

Several cardiovascular diseases are directly connected to obesity. For instance, Harvard also indicates excess body weight is directly associated with coronary artery disease. In one study, individuals with obesity had an 81% higher risk of developing this condition. Stroke is also connected to excess body weight. Many people who suffer cardiovascular death also have obesity.

Cancer

Cancer and obesity are also connected, but the connection isn’t as clear as the connection between diabetes and cardiovascular disease because there are many different types of cancers with different causes. Some of the types of cancer connected to obesity include cancers of the:

  • Digestive system
  • Esophagus
  • Pancreas
  • Breast
  • Endometrium
  • Kidney
  • Gallbladder

Many of these cancers have the highest connection to fat in the abdominal area rather than other areas of the body.

Reading a list like this can feel overwhelming. Yet it’s important to know these connections so you can make informed choices about your health. With some changes, you may be able to lower your risk and lessen the chance of developing a comorbid condition.

Impact on energy levels

When someone has obesity, they often have lower energy levels or overall feelings of just being tired. There are several reasons for this. First, many people with obesity struggle with their sleep, often due to sleep apnea. Also, the body has to work harder to move when it carries excess weight. Finally, excess body fat can impact the hormones connected to energy levels. 

Thankfully, if you’re dealing with lower energy levels, there are some positive steps you can make to improve. One idea is to move your body more often. Exercise may feel difficult when you’re tired, but as soon as you get moving, you’ll start feeling the impact of endorphins, which can increase your energy and boost your mood. Movement doesn’t have to be strenuous, either. A simple walk around the block can have great positive impacts on your energy.

Second, consider drinking more water. Hydration increases energy levels, and water intake requirements have a direct link to your body’s size. You may need more than you think!

Obesity and mental health

Poor energy and other health conditions can all impact your mental health. You may be a victim of body-shaming as well as over half of all adults experience stigma related to their weight in some way. As many as 20 to 60 percent of people with obesity are also suffering some sort of psychiatric illness, which is a higher rate than the general population. Understanding that you aren’t alone in these struggles, and empowering yourself to make positive health changes, may help lessen the impact on your mental health. Always remember to seek professional care, too, if you have a mental health concern. 

Practical tips for health prioritization

These risks of obesity are serious, but the good news is that positive health changes make a big difference. While each individual’s approach to health will be unique due to their personal life experiences, most people can make changes that will lower their risk of developing these conditions. The key is to prioritize your health. 

If you’re struggling with being overweight and are aware of obesity risk factors, you may already know changes you can make that could help you live a healthier lifestyle. If these changes feel challenging, remember that every small step you take can have a big impact on your overall health. 

Before you start any health changes, consider having a check-up with your doctor. You might have underlying health conditions making it harder to work on your weight. If you treat these, you might find your healthy lifestyle changes are more effective. You can also get the green light from your doctor for the changes you want to make.

Another strategy to consider is a change in your diet, which can start with portion control. Eating smaller portions can help you lower your calorie intake, which is a good first step. You can also increase the number of fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins you eat, which give you more nutrients than other foods. As you start making dietary changes, check out some common health myths, such as the idea that all carbs are bad, and make changes a little bit at a time. 

Remember that water is a way to boost your energy? It’s also a way to achieve other health goals. Drinking the right amount of water for your body and your activity levels can not only increase energy, but it could also help you eat less. If you add water a little bit at a time, you’ll likely find that it becomes a habit, and it also may help you eat less as you work to reduce your body weight.

Finally, remember the importance of exercise! Find times when you can incorporate more movement into your day, such as by taking the stairs instead of the elevator or having a dance party at home at the end of the day. If you have mobility challenges, a seated workout might be a good way to get started. You’ll likely find that doing so boosts your energy levels and your motivation.  

Making health changes and embracing healthy living can feel overwhelming at first, but every little change adds up over time. You can use tools to track these changes to help you stay motivated. You can also pair Evidation with your favorite health and fitness tracking program to reward yourself for the healthy changes you make. Download the app today to take back your health with Evidation.

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