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How excess weight affects health

How does weight affect our body and mind? What health risks increase when our weight is greater than it should be?

A healthy weight is a prerequisite for the effective functioning of our body in the long term because our weight affects absolutely all processes in our body.

In turn, being overweight, and especially obesity, creates an extra load on our body, causing an increase in blood pressure and changes in metabolism and hormone levels, which manifests in a wide variety of health problems – from disorders of reproductive and respiratory functions to memory loss and bad mood.

However, the good news is that reducing excess weight can also reduce the risks associated with it. Even if you never reach your ideal weight by losing only 5 to 10 percent of your body weight, you can significantly improve your health and well-being.

This article briefly summarizes the effects of obesity and overweight on our health and well-being.


Overweight and health

Think of being overweight as a burden. Imagine that you carry a kettlebell weighing 5, 10, 20, or even heavier with you every day and do not part with it even at night.

What did you feel when you got rid of this load? Wouldn’t this feeling be worth it to think a little bit about what we eat and how we eat?


And if, in addition, the risk of developing about 50 different chronic diseases could be reduced?

Wouldn’t it be worth it?


Overweight and depression

Do people gain weight because they have depression, or does depression occur because they are overweight?

Studies show that, most likely, both scenarios are true. For example – in a study published in 2010, it was found that obese people have a 55% higher risk of developing depression than people of normal weight.

As the reasons why obesity can increase the risk of depression, the following are cited:

  • Both scenarios seem to derive (at least in part) from changes in brain chemistry and function in response to stress;
  • Psychological factors are also plausible, because in Western culture, at the moment, a slim and gymnastic body is considered beautiful. In other words, being overweight can lower self-esteem, which is a known cause of depression;
  • Unhealthy eating habits and eating disorders, as well as physical discomfort due to obesity, are known to contribute to depression;

A study published in 2020 found that people with depression have a 58% higher risk of becoming obese.

Here are some reasons why depression can lead to obesity:

  • There is a theory that elevated levels of the stress hormone cortisol (common in people with depression) can alter the substances contained in fat cells and thus contribute to the accumulation of fat, especially in the abdominal area;
  • People with depression feel too depressed to eat properly and exercise regularly;
  • Some drugs used to treat depression cause weight gain.

Overweight, heart disease, and stroke

Overweight people often experience simultaneous rises in both blood pressure and the level of cholesterol and other fats in the blood.

Both of these factors can lead to both heart disease and stroke.

In obese people, high blood pressure is about six times more common than in people of normal weight.

According to the American Heart Association, 10 kilograms of excess weight increase systolic blood pressure (first reading) by an average of 3 mm Hg and diastolic blood pressure (second reading) by an average of 2.3 mm Hg, which means an increase in the risk of stroke by 24%.

It has been calculated that*:

  • Being overweight increases the risk of heart disease by 32%;
  • Obesity increases the risk of heart disease by 81%;
  • Overweight people have a 22% higher risk of ischemic stroke, while obese people have an increased risk of it up to 64%;
  • The risk of hemorrhagic stroke in overweight people does not increase, but in obese people, it is 24% higher;

* According to a 2007 study by Archives of Internal Medicine (summarizing the results from 21 different studies involving more than 300,000 people) and a 2010 report in the journal Stroke (which summarized the results from 25 studies (involving more than two million people).


Overweight and diabetes

Overweight, obesity, and diabetes are almost synonymous – about 90% of people with type 2 diabetes (the most common form of the disease) are overweight or obese.

Fat cells, especially those located in the waist area, secrete hormones and other substances that cause inflammation, which, in turn, can lead to various health problems. For example – reduce the body’s response to insulin and change the way the body metabolizes fats and carbohydrates. It can raise blood sugar levels, which in turn can lead to diabetes and its many complications.

High blood sugar (which is a basic sign of diabetes) is also one of the signs of metabolic syndrome. If diabetes is not treated or is poorly controlled, it can lead to a number of serious health problems, including kidney failure, blindness, and amputations of the feet or legs.

In the Nurses’ Health Study study (during which 114,000 middle-aged women were observed for 14 years), the risk of developing diabetes was 93 times higher in women who had a body mass index (BMI) of 35 or higher at baseline.

Research reveals a similar relationship in men as well.


Overweight and cancer

The link between obesity and cancer is not as obvious as in diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. Partly due to the fact that cancer is not a single disease, but a combination of several diseases.

Some experts believe that obesity is the second leading cause of cancer death after smoking.

A study by the American Cancer Society (during which more than 900,000 people were followed for 16 years) showed a link between being overweight and many different types of cancer.

Some of the discoveries:

  • In people 50 years of age and older, overweight and obesity can lead to death in 14% of cases in men and in 20% of cases in women (of all deaths caused by cancer);
  • In both men and women, higher BMI was associated with a higher risk of dying from esophageal, colon and rectal, liver, gallbladder, pancreas, or kidney cancers;
  • In men, being overweight also increased the risk of dying from stomach or prostate cancer;
  • Women with a higher BMI had an increased risk of dying from breast, uterine, cervical, or ovarian cancer.

Overweight and fertility

Obesity can affect various aspects of reproduction, from sexual activity to conception. The association between obesity and infertility (mainly ovulatory infertility) has been found in numerous studies. Here are some conclusions:


At the same time, there are studies that show that even a small weight loss improves fertility in obese women.


Excess weight interferes with the proper functioning of hormones also in the male body and can cause:

  • Decrease in testosterone levels;
  • Disturbances in sperm production;
  • Deterioration of sperm quality, which can hinder fertilization and reduce the chances of survival of the embryo.

Overweight and life expectancy

Being overweight and obese can shorten your life span as it has a significant impact on your health.

This is evidenced by a number of studies, for example:

  • A study published in 2006 found that overweight people in their 50s had a 20 to 40 percent higher risk of death than those with a BMI between 23.5 and 24.9 at that age. In obese people, this risk was two to at least three times higher than in participants with a BMI of 23.5 to 24.9;
  • A study published in 2011 found that overweight and obesity in adults are associated with increased mortality of all causes. The lowest mortality was found in people with a body mass index of 20.0 to 24.9.

Overweight and well-being

By losing excess weight, you can feel better both physically and emotionally – even a small weight loss (between 5% and 10% of your starting weight) can lead to significant health benefits, for example:

  • Reducing your weight by just 4-5 kilograms can reduce systolic blood pressure by 2.8 mm Hg and diastolic blood pressure by 2.5 mm Hg. Weight reduction is so effective for many that they can stop taking blood pressure medications after losing weight;
  • People at high risk of type 2 diabetes, reducing their weight by only 7% and exercising for about 30 minutes a day, can reduce their risk of diabetes by almost 60%.

Diseases that can be caused by overweight and obesity

The list is long because being overweight affects the functioning of practically all our organs:


Key takeaways

As you can see, being overweight and obese can cause many different health problems.

The main problem with weight gain is that it grows little by little, almost imperceptibly. We just suddenly find that the clothes have become too tight, and the mirror no longer shows correctly – 😊.

But we still feel more or less good, because changes in our bodies occur slowly, sometimes even over several years.

And then, suddenly, something happens – the state of health worsens and visits to doctors of various profiles become more frequent.

You can reduce your risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, joint problems, and more by simply changing your lifestyle and eating habits.

Obesity is not a permanent condition. However, losing weight is much more difficult than gaining it.

Weight reduction is only the beginning – the main challenge is to maintain the newly acquired weight – by creating and following healthy dietary habits throughout life.

That’s what I’m trying to teach my slimming challenge participants.

Nurses’ Health Study

American Cancer Society

AHA Journals

Obesity and Depression

The Relationship Between Obesity and Lymphoma

The incidence of co-morbidities related to obesity and overweight

Weight gain as a risk factor for clinical diabetes mellitus in women

Changes in body weight and body fat distribution as risk factors for clinical diabetes in US men

The incidence of co-morbidities related to obesity and overweight

Obesity, inflammation, and atherosclerosis


The long-term effect of lifestyle interventions to prevent diabetes in the China Da Qing Diabetes Prevention Study

Prevention of Type II diabetes in subjects with impaired glucose tolerance

Association of overweight with increased risk of coronary heart disease partly independent of blood pressure and cholesterol levels: a meta-analysis of 21 cohort studies including more than 300 000 persons

Excess Body Weight and Incidence of Stroke

Body mass index and mortality: a meta-analysis based on person-level data from twenty-six observational studies

Long Term Effects of a Lifestyle Intervention on Weight and Cardiovascular Risk Factors in Individuals with Type 2 Diabetes

Arterial Destiffening With Weight Loss in Overweight and Obese Middle-Aged and Older Adults

Effect of Moderate Diet-Induced Weight Loss and Weight Regain on Cardiovascular Structure and Function

Adult weight change and risk of postmenopausal breast cancer

Depression and obesity

Overweight, obesity, and depression

Physical activity, body mass index, and ovulatory disorder infertility

Obesity in pregnancy: prevalence and metabolic consequences

Maternal Overweight and Obesity and the Risk of Congenital Anomalies

Weight loss results in significant improvement in pregnancy and ovulation rates in anovulatory obese women

Male obesity and alteration in sperm parameters

Body mass index in relation to semen quality, sperm DNA integrity, and serum reproductive hormone levels among men attending an infertility clinic

A prospective study of risk factors for erectile dysfunction

Predictors and prevalence of erectile dysfunction in a racially diverse population

Effects of weight loss intervention on erectile function in older men with type 2 diabetes in the Look AHEAD trial

Sexuality and obesity, a gender perspective

Association of Body Weight and Female Sexual Dysfunction

Obesity and the lung

Overweight, Obesity, and Incident Asthma

A Two-Year Weight Reduction Program in Obese Sleep Apnea Patients

Lifestyle intervention with weight reduction: first-line treatment in mild obstructive sleep apnea

Meta-analysis of Alzheimers disease risk with obesity, diabetes, and related disorders

Alzheimers Association. Alzheimers Facts and Figures

The impact of obesity on the musculoskeletal system

Prospective study of abdominal adiposity and gallstone disease in US men

Risk of symptomatic gallstones in women with severe obesity

Epidemiology of gout in women: Fifty-two-year followup of a prospective cohort

Obesity and chronic kidney disease

Fatty liver incidence and predictive variables

Excess Deaths Associated With Underweight, Overweight, and Obesity

Cause-Specific Excess Deaths Associated With Underweight, Overweight, and Obesity

Correcting biases in estimates of mortality attributable to obesity

Body-mass index and mortality in a prospective cohort of U.S. adults

Annual deaths attributable to obesity in the United States

Overweight, Obesity, and Mortality in a Large Prospective Cohort of Persons 50 to 71 Years Old

Obesity Epidemiology

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