Obesity, a condition characterized by an excessive buildup of body fat, can have a significant impact on your overall health. It is generally defined by having a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or greater. While not everyone who is overweight will experience severe health issues, obesity increases the risk of conditions such as osteoarthritis, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease. The risk of developing these conditions can also be influenced by factors like genetics and the distribution of excess weight in the body.

Let's dive into the most common health risks associated with obesity.

1. Hypertension

Obesity can lead to hypertension, or high blood pressure, through various mechanisms. The increased body weight places additional stress on the circulatory system as it tries to circulate blood throughout the body. Obesity can also elevate cholesterol levels, especially when excess fat is concentrated in the abdominal area. This can cause the blood vessels in that region to harden and become less flexible due to the buildup of plaque. Consequently, blood pressure rises.

2. Diabetes

Type 2 diabetes is more prevalent among individuals who are overweight. This form of diabetes, previously common in adults, is now affecting children and teenagers due to the rising rates of obesity. Excess weight can lead to insulin resistance, a condition where the body's cells do not respond effectively to insulin, a hormone crucial for regulating blood sugar levels. This results in higher blood sugar levels. Obesity can also reduce insulin sensitivity, leading to prediabetes, which frequently progresses to type 2 diabetes.

3. Cardiovascular disease

Obesity can increase the risk of cardiovascular diseases such as atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) and coronary heart disease. Fatty deposits and plaque accumulation in the blood vessels lead to constriction and reduced blood flow to the heart. This can result in angina or even a heart attack. In some cases, blood clots formed in these narrowed vessels can cause strokes.

4. Joint problems

Even minor changes in body weight can significantly impact bone and joint health. Overweight individuals are more likely to experience joint problems for two main reasons. First, the additional weight places added stress on weight-bearing joints, particularly the knees, leading to faster wear and tear and eventual knee pain. Second, inflammation triggered by excess weight can exacerbate joint issues and worsen conditions like osteoarthritis. Losing even a modest amount of weight can lead to improved joint mobility and better bone health.

5. Sleep apnea

Sleep apnea, a common yet severe sleep disorder characterized by periodic interruptions in breathing lasting 10 seconds or longer, can lead to reduced oxygen levels in the blood and nighttime awakenings. Obesity is the primary contributor to the development of sleep apnea. Excess weight can cause the soft tissues in the tongue and throat to grow, and when the tongue and neck muscles relax during sleep, these tissues can obstruct the airway, leading to an apnea episode. Individuals with excess body fat around the neck and torso are at higher risk of developing sleep apnea.

The bottom line

In addition to the number on the scale, carrying extra weight can considerably increase the risk of severe health conditions. Obesity has been linked to joint pain, sleep apnea, diabetes, heart disease, and strokes. The good news is that losing those extra pounds can lower your chances of developing certain health problems.

Remember, it is never too late to begin the journey toward a healthier weight and a healthier self. You can lower your risk of obesity-related health problems and live a happier, healthier life by making minor changes to your everyday routine.