Health Risks of Being Overweight

What Is Obese?

More than a third of U.S. adults are. It’s a medical term that means you weigh at least 20% more than what is ideal for someone your height, often because of body fat. It’s measured by BMI (body mass index): 30 and higher is considered obese. That extra weight, especially as fat around your waist, can lead to health issues that often feed off of each other. Shedding pounds may prevent, slow, or even reverse many of them.

People who have obesity, compared to those with a normal or healthy weight, are at increased risk for many serious diseases and health conditions, including the following:1,2,3

  • All-causes of death (mortality)
  • High blood pressure (Hypertension)
  • High LDL cholesterol, low HDL cholesterol, or high levels of triglycerides (Dyslipidemia)
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Coronary heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Gallbladder disease
  • Osteoarthritis (a breakdown of cartilage and bone within a joint)
  • Sleep apnea and breathing problems
  • Many types of cancer external icon
  • Low quality of life
  • Mental illness such as clinical depression, anxiety, and other mental disorders4,5
  • Body pain and difficulty with physical functioning6

Where the weight lies

Where you carry excess weight makes a difference. Extra fat that accumulates just under the skin — subcutaneous fat — appears to cause few health issues.

A more dangerous type of fat, called visceral fat, is stored at waist level, in the abdominal cavity, and can surround vital organs like the pancreas, liver, and intestines. Visceral fat makes up only about 10% of a person’s body fat, but a 2016 study in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology found that increases in visceral fat can worsen heart disease risk factors, such as blood pressure, blood sugar, and total cholesterol levels.

In general, a man whose waist measures 40 inches or more has excess visceral fat. But waist size is not always a clear sign. Some people can accumulate visceral fat in a way that is much less visible.

Feeling the weight

While the scale and your clothes are the best ways to measure weight gain, everyday movements also can reveal how excess weight affects your health. For instance, can you climb a flight of stairs or walk a few blocks on a flat surface at a brisk pace without getting easily fatigued? If not, you should see your doctor about your weight. He or she can help with dietary changes and recommend proper exercise programs to help with weight management.

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