Obesity - associated health risks
What are the most common risk factors?
Factors which have an influence on a person’s potential for obesity can include the following:
- Psychological influences: Emotional eating is problematic when it comes to weight gain and may occur for a number of reasons. This coupled with mood disorders, such as depression can result in excessive weight gain, which if not controlled or reversed, can lead to obesity.
- Environmental factors: The environment in which we live has a lot of influence over behavioural choices, and in this case, when it comes to eating. Influences in the home, school, place of work and general community can impact what a person eats and how active they are likely to be. A safe neighbourhood to live in may promote more outside activity versus one that is rife with crime, for instance. Convenience cooking products and fast food outlets may promote unhealthy eating habits or choices more frequently when it comes to diet. It’s not uncommon for obesity to run in families – many families tend to develop and share very similar habits when it comes to eating and physical activity.
- Genetics: Specific genes that a person is born with may make it more challenging for a person to ‘feel full’ (satiated) following a meal. Genes have an influence on the amount of body fat a person can store and how it is distributed. Genes also contribute to how efficiently food is converted into energy, which can then be burned off during physical activity. Research teams are looking into this more carefully to determine how genes may cause this and the best ways to treat it in order to avoid problems with obesity.
- Use of substances: Weight gain can also be influenced by the use of certain medications, such as steroids, birth control pills (oral contraceptives) and some anti-depressants, anti-seizure drugs, beta blockers, antipsychotics and those used to treat diabetes. Cessation of smoking can also result in the gaining of weight if not carefully managed with diet and exercise.
- Childhood sexual abuse and trauma: Research has shown that those who suffer from childhood sexual abuse (CSA) and specifically intrafamilial sexual abuse, as well as those who have been exposed to significant childhood trauma such as domestic violence coupled with physical and emotional abuse, ongoing neglect, living without biological parents, having a parent who is mentally ill, addicted to drugs or incarcerated have an increased risk of obesity in adulthood.
Medical concerns and potential complications
When a person puts on excess weight, the ratio of body fat to muscle can begin to strain body tissues, muscles, bones and even organs. Inflammation in the body also increases, which can result in the development of a variety of diseases and conditions.
The development of health conditions can be serious, and is one of the main reasons, obesity-related death figures are so high across the world. Health conditions that are of the greatest concern include:
- Coronary heart disease
- Hypertension (high blood pressure – often as a result of excess insulin in the body)
- High cholesterol and elevated fats or lipids (Dyslipidemia) - High triglycerides and low high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol
- Type 2 diabetes
- Metabolic syndrome
- Cancer (especially the colon, uterus or endometrium, cervix, ovaries, rectum, oesophagus, liver, breast, kidney, gallbladder, pancreas, or prostate)
- Gallbladder disease (as a result of excess production of cholesterol which becomes super-saturated) or gallstones
- Fatty liver disease
- Gout (excess uric acid in the blood, leading to crystal formations to accumulate on the joints)
- Arthritis and osteoarthritis (bone and cartilage degeneration)
- Sleep apnoea
- Respiratory problems (such as breathing difficulties or even asthma due to the lungs decreasing in size and the chest wall becoming heavy)
- Irregular menstrual periods (females)
- Erectile dysfunction (males)
Did you know? Reducing the risk of developing heart disease or having a stroke can be achieved by losing at least 5% to 10% of excess weight.