If You’re Obese, These Are The Health Conditions You’re Most At Risk For

And why losing just 5% of your body weight can make all the difference.


Yamkela Mdaka |

Obesity and overweight are terms many of us tend to use interchangeably; while they are similar, they are not the same. It all comes down to Body Mass Index (BMI), which is a measure of body fat based on a person’s weight, height and age. 

Someone with a BMI of between 25 and 29,9 is said to be overweight, while obesity refers to a person with a BMI over 30. While slightly different, both obesity and being overweight significantly increase one’s risk for several health conditions. But obesity is only a risk factor, and not a guarantee that you will develop these conditions. 

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With that said, it’s still important to know which conditions one is highly at risk of developing so as to work towards doing regular screenings for these specific conditions and/or decreasing your risk for said conditions.

What are the stats for obesity? 

Just how prevalent is being overweight and obese in South Africa and the world? Well, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), worldwide obesity has almost tripled since 1975. Their fact sheet estimates that by 2016, 1,9 billion people over 18 years were overweight and 650 million of them were obese. 

“Once considered a high-income country problem, overweight and obesity are on the rise in low- and middle-income countries, particularly in urban settings,” WHO writes. 

“In Africa, the number of overweight children under 5 has increased by nearly 50% since 2000. Nearly half of the children under 5 who were overweight and obese in 2016 lived in Asia.”

Let’s bring all of this back home for a second. According to our Department of Health, about 70% of women and 40% of men are either overweight or obese. That is a staggering stat, but it also shows that you’re not alone…

Now we’ll take a look at the most common health conditions overweight and obese individuals are at risk for: 

Type-2 diabetes 

The top of this list is type-2 diabetes. According to research, being overweight is the main contributing factor for type-2 diabetes – and the risk is directly linked with your BMI. The higher the BMI, the higher the risk of developing this condition.  

According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), the best way to curb the risk is to try and lose at least 5% of your total body fat as this can delay the onset of type-2 diabetes. 

And if you are diagnosed with diabetes, you can manage it with lifestyle changes and prescribed treatment. 

High blood pressure 

If your blood pressure reading is consistently higher than 140/90 mm Hg (“140 over 90”) then you are considered to have high blood pressure, and this can cause some other serious health issues and complications. Obesity is a major risk factor for this condition. 

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But high blood pressure, like diabetes, can be managed with medication and lifestyle changes, including quitting smoking, reducing salt intake and exercising if you are diagnosed.  

Cardiovascular diseases 

Obesity is a key risk factor for cardiovascular diseases – more prominently, heart disease and stroke. This is often the case because of the increased risk of diseases such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol, which negatively impact the heart. 

The high risk of having a stroke when you are obese is also closely linked with obesity’s impact on blood pressure. And the NIDDK writes that one of the best ways to decrease your risk for stroke when you are obese is to make sure that your blood pressure is kept under control. One of the ways to do this is to lose some excess weight; this will not only help in lowering your blood pressure, but can also have a positive effect on cholesterol.

Cancers

WHO says that obesity is a risk factor for certain cancers – specifically: 

  • Endometrial cancer 
  • Breast cancer 
  • Ovarian cancer 
  • Prostate cancer 
  • Liver cancer 
  • Gallbladder cancer (a relatively uncommon cancer)
  • Renal (kidney) cancer 
  • Colon cancer 

Adult weight gain in general, even outside of being overweight or obese, increases one’s risk for developing certain cancers. The reason that this is a risk factor is still greatly unknown, but it’s said that trying to avoid weight gain, in general, could decrease one’s risk for certain cancers. And it’s also said that weight loss, in some instances, can also lower one’s cancer risk – but the research around this hasn’t been very clear. 

Obstructive sleep apnea 

Sleep apnea happens when one has pauses in breathing while they’re asleep. This greatly affects sleep quality and can lead to heart conditions. Like diabetes, obesity is the leading risk factor for sleep apnea. 

A study on the link between obstructive sleep apnea and obesity found that weight loss had a huge impact on general sleep quality, and greatly reduced the occurrence of dysfunctional breathing during sleep. 

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“To cope with this increasing and seriously preventable health issue, we emphasise the need to minimise the consumption of junk and fast food, [and] increase the consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables,” the study said. “In addition to making dietary changes, engaging in physical exercise is necessary.”

What’s clear is that a 5% to 7% reduction in your total body fat can do wonders for your health. It’s not about slimming down to the size that you envy when you see pictures of yourself from 10 years ago. It’s more about taking small steps every day to slowly, but surely, improve your overall health and reduce your risk for several health conditions. 

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