Why lose weight? For many people losing weight is purely about looking good. However, what is usually reported in the news are the health problems associated with being overweight or obese. It may seem obvious why we should lose weight but many people still do not realise that being overweight really is unhealthy in many ways. This article explains the main health problems associated with being overweight and how losing weight improves your health.
While advancements are being made in all areas of medical science we are still facing an ever-growing healthy crisis – the obesity epidemic. The latest figures suggested that 1 in 4 adults are now obese and it is predicted that by 2030 half of all adults will be obese. The increase in cases of diabetes, heart disease, cancer, strokes and other health problems is likely to cost the USA around $48-66 billion a year and the UK £1.9-2 billion a year alone. So it is no surprise that governments are keen to tackle the obesity problem. However, you really should not wait for governments to intervene because obesity will very likely seriously affect your own life very soon.
We first commented on overweightedness as a health problem in our article A Guide to Losing Belly Fat with Diet and Exercise. We introduced that guide by explaining that central obesity is bad for you. Central obesity refers to visceral fat which is just one type of weight issue. Visceral fat is the fat which only accumulates in the central region of the body, namely and the stomach around the internal organs. Often it is referred to as middle-age spread, a spare tyre or muffin top. These terms do not do it justice really, it is much more dangerous to health than these friendly terms suggest.
Visceral fat is the worse type of fat in terms of health, however other types and locations of fat provide indicators of poor health, such as excessive fat on the neck. Some reports have indicated that excessive fat in other parts of the body, such as on the thighs, is not always bad for health. It is natural for women to accumulate extra subcutaneous fat on their thighs, buttocks and hips. Although this is not too unhealthy it can often mask additional visceral fat in the abdominal region.
Being Overweight Reduces Quality of Life
In 2004 being overweight and physically inactive was ranked the 3rd disease risk factor that leads to a reduction in the quality of life and its contribution to global disease. Being overweight contributes to 7.14 million deaths each year and on average overweight people live 4.4 years less and have a reduced quality of life due to reduced mobility and ill-health during this time (Rodgers et al, 2004).
The biggest cause of death in the western world is still heart disease and one of the major causes of heart disease is a combination of poor diet and lack of exercise. Over time a diet high in saturated fat damages the arteries which leads to heart disease. Also, diets high in salt contribute to increased risk resulting from prolonged high blood pressure.
Heart disease is a big problem because many other factors increase risk such as smoking, heavy drinking and stress. Although a lot of work has been done in recent decades to improve awareness of the risks of these activities obesity continues to rise due to the increasing dominance of the “obesogenic environment” in which many of us now live.
Type 2 Diabetes
Type 2 Diabetes (T2) is the fastest growing disease in the western world. 65% of people who develop T2 diabetes develop will develop fatal heart disease as a result. Women seem to lose all of their natural ability to combat heart disease once they develop T2 diabetes too (Grundy et al, 1999). Also, research has shown that obese women (BMI over 30) are 90 times more likely to develop T2 diabetes than women of a healthy weight (Anderson el al, 2003).
In addition to increase risk of heart disease you are 20 times more likely to lose your sight, at increased risk of stroke (for every 3 people who have a stroke 1 will die and another will be paralysed), increase risk of developing kidney disease as well as other neural problems (diabetic neuropathy) such as sensory loss and impotence.
It is thought that many forms of cancer are caused by a combination of poor diet, obesity and lack of exercise. Research carried out by Prof. Rosalie David in 2010 found that there are very few examples of cancer developing in mummified remains in Egypt even though ancient Egyptians tended to live longer than average lives. The conclusion was the most forms of cancer are triggered by lifestyle factors such as diet and weight. Read our report Are You Protecting Yourself Against Cancer? for more information on this study.
Increased Quality of Life
Even if you are lucky to escape the serious health problems associated with being overweight or obese you may still suffer from reduced mobility later in life. As we grow older it is natural for our bodies to grow weaker. If your muscle mass wanes and fat accumulates it becomes harder to be active and this can quickly reduce your quality of life.
Many obese people cope well for years and then one small fall or twisted ankle makes them practically disabled as they find it very hard to ever recover from the injuries. It really is a sad state of affairs where people are literally eating their way to a life of misery and an early grave.
“Unlike other major causes of preventable death and disability, such as tobacco use, injuries, and infectious diseases, there are no exemplar populations in which the obesity epidemic has been reversed by public health measures.” Swinburn et al, 2011.
This really drives home the problem that we are all facing as a society and as individuals – at the moment there is no magic cure for obesity. There are no drugs that can be taken to safely wean people off food or treatments to help people to burn off excessive fat.
The only long-term, sustainable and healthy solution is to exercise more and eat a healthy diet. You literally have to take your life into your own hands. The advantages and health benefits of losing weight far outweigh any cost in terms of time and money that is required to get yourself in shape. The single most important health benefit of losing weight is getting your life back again and keeping it.
Mental and Physical Health Affected by Weight Problems
Being overweight or obese results in more than just physical discomfort. There is now clear evidence that being overweight causes many serious health issues such as diabetes and cardiovascular problems as well as mental health problems.
In fact, few people consider the mental health problems associated with weight issues. Many people become depressed and see their self-esteem plummet after putting on weight. This depression can easily send a person into a downward spiral where they find themselves in a typical Catch 22 situation – overweight because they are depressed with their life, and depressed because they are too overweight to do anything.
Although many people do not talk about these issues, it is now thought that depression is quite common amongst people that have been suffering from weight problems for many years.
Losing weight is really more a battle of the mind than a physical challenge. The theory of weight loss is actually strikingly simple – eat less food than your body needs. However, implementing that theory and actually sticking to it for the long term are the real challenges.
This is where weight loss communities, both online ones such as MotleyHealth, and offline communities such as weight loss support groups, can really help. Also, getting support from friends and family is very important when you are trying to lose weight. We actually raised this in our weight loss action plan. Also research has shown in the past that exercising and dieting with a friend is actually very effective at helping you to stay on track.
One very important tip for anyone that wants to lose weight and get back in shape – exercise releases endorphins, the feel good gene. This directly combats depression. People who exercise often are actually less likely to suffer from depression. So one way to reverse many years of inactivity and weight gain is to force yourself back into exercise and fitness. Now is a good time to start exercising. What are you waiting for?
Warning To People With Fat Bellies
A scientific report published in August 2010 confirmed that if you are overweight, and specifically have excess belly fat, you are at much greater risk of early death than people of a healthy weight.
In the study researchers at the American Cancer Society examined statistics from men and women over the age of 50. The analysis provided a clear relationship between large stomachs and the inset of terminal illnesses.
Men with a waist larger than 47 inches and women with a waist larger than 42 inches are twice as likely to die early than people with smaller waists. The causes of death are not restricted to weight related issues. Being overweight increases the risk of developing a large range of illnesses that can result in death.
This study also highlights the risk of using just the BMI (body mass index scale) to determine if someone is overweight. There are many cases where people have very large stomachs but still fall in the normal BMI range. If you have little muscle mass and do not carry much fat elsewhere you may have a relatively low BMI (below 30), but you may still have dangerously high levels of visceral fat surrounding your internal organs.
The study concluded that people must not only keep BMI below 30, ideally below 25, but also ensure waist size remains low. Although the study saw biggest problems with waist circumference over 47 inches in men, it is recommended that waist size is kept below 36 inches for the best health.
Most People Do Not Know That Stomach Fat Is Unhealthy
It seems that no matter how much health advice is given the message that being overweight is not healthy is just not sinking in. In a 2010 study carried out in the UK, 97% of people questioned were still unaware that being overweight, especially having excess stomach fat, was linked with a variety of illnesses including cancer, diabetes and heart disease.
When you carry too much weight around your mid-section your estrogen levels increase which are one of the causes of disease.
The main problem is that most people are in denial about their weight problem. Many convince themselves that they have not put on too much weight, and that the extra tummy fat that they are carrying is really OK. This is simply not true.
Even though new guidelines state that you should exercise for 1 hour a day to stay in shape, less that 50% of people do any exercise to help lose weight. Many people just buy bigger clothes.
Three UK health charities have united under the name of Active Fat to help promote health and fitness as a way to beat obesity.
This video below explains why belly fat is unhealthy, by explaining the role of “active fat” and how it literally attacks the body. Did you know that belly fat produces chemicals that affect how you handle the fat that you carry. Fatty tissues build up and restrict blood flow which leads to blockages and heart attack.
The video also explains the role of glucose (blood sugar) and insulin resistance, that leads to type 2 diabetes. There is a lot of good information in this video. Watch it and learn why you need to lose weight.
Another study by GlaxoSmithKline in 2009 showed that 90% of people are still unaware that excess stomach fat is very bad for your health. Even more shocking was the revelation that 25% of people did not know that being overweight posed any health risk. Those questioned thought that being overweight was just a social or image problem, and not actually a health problem.
“Most overweight people still see themselves as having a body image issue not a health problem and they need to understand the health benefits of weight loss as well as the cosmetic results,” Dr Terry Maguire, Queen’s University in Belfast.
Although many people measure BMI (body mass index) to determine if they are seriously overweight or obese, it is now thought that a much better measure of health is waist circumference.
When is Your Stomach Too Fat?
Diabetes UK advises that the following waist measurements put people at risk:
- Women: 31.5 inches (80 cm)
- White men and black men: 37 inches (94cm)
- South Asian men: 35 inches (90cm)
The only healthy way to lose weight is through a combination of healthy eating and exercise. Short term fad diets do not work, ab exercises do not work, and infrequent exercise and overeating does not work. You need to workout several times a week, do weight bearing exercises, and eat a lean, healthy and balanced diet.
- “Distribution of Major Health Risks: Findings from the Global Burden of Disease Study” by Anthony Rodgers, Majid Ezzati, Stephen Vander Hoorn, Alan D. Lopez, Ruey-Bin Lin1, Christopher J. L. Murray (2004) PLoS Med1(1): e27. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0010027.
- “Diabetes and Cardiovascular Disease: A Statement for Healthcare Professionals From the American Heart Association” by Scott M. Grundy, Ivor J. Benjamin, Gregory L. Burke, Alan Chait, Robert H. Eckel, Barbara V. Howard, William Mitch, Sidney C. Smith, James R. Sowers. American Heart Association. 1999; 100: 1134-1146 doi: 10.1161/01.CIR.100.10.1134
- “Importance of Weight Management in Type 2 Diabetes: Review with Meta-analysis of Clinical Studies” by James W. Anderson, Cyril W.C. Kendall and David J.A. Jenkins. Journal of the American College of Nutrition. October 2003 vol. 22 no. 5 331-339.
- “Health and economic burden of the projected obesity trends in the USA and the UK” by Y Claire Wang, Prof Klim McPherson, Tim Marsh, Steven L Gortmaker, Martin Brown. The Lancet, Volume 378, Issue 9793, Pages 815 – 825, 27 August 2011. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(11)60814-3
- “The global obesity pandemic: shaped by global drivers and local environments” by Prof Boyd A Swinburn, Gary Sacks, Kevin D Hall, Prof Klim McPherson, Prof Diane T Finegood, Marjory L Moodie, Prof Steven L Gortmaker. The Lancet, Volume 378, Issue 9793, Pages 804 – 814, 27 August 2011. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(11)60813-1
- “Waist Circumference and All-Cause Mortality in a Large US Cohort“ by, Eric J. Jacobs, PhD; Christina C. Newton, MSPH; Yiting Wang, PhD; Alpa V. Patel, PhD; Marjorie L. McCullough, ScD; Peter T. Campbell, PhD; Michael J. Thun, MD; Susan M. Gapstur, PhD. Published in Arch Intern Med. 2010;170(15):1293-1301. doi: 10.1001 / archinternmed.2010.201